Commentary

NCAA spins fairy-tale fodder

Originally Published: December 1, 2010
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

Huh? Did the NCAA do what I think it did? Did it basically rule that a father and a third party can actively, brazenly and with impunity shop a player around for hundreds of thousands of dollars -- and the worst thing that happens is the father has to lie low and the third party has to disassociate himself from the programs in question?

Did it just get embarrassed by a rules loophole the size of Jordan-Hare Stadium, the gist of it being: Your old man and another guy can put you on the open market, but as long as you don't know about it, you're good to strap it up for the next big game?

The answers: yes and yes.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Jim Rinaldi/Icon SMICam Newton is clear to hit the field for Auburn on Saturday.

"In determining how a violation impacts a student-athlete's eligibility, we must consider the young person's responsibility," said Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president for academic and membership affairs, in announcing the ruling Wednesday that Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton is eligible. "Based on the information available to the reinstatement staff at this time, we do not have sufficient evidence that Cam Newton or anyone from Auburn was aware of this activity, which led to his reinstatement."

Amazing. The NCAA just made it possible for anyone with a blue-chip prospect to shop that player without fear of real punishment. Football player … hoops player -- doesn't matter. All you have to do is say the kid didn't have a clue about the sales price and it's like nothing happened. Plausible deniability.

The Rev. Cecil Newton should thank the heavens that the NCAA carries guns loaded with blanks. Newton's penalty for peddling his son: His access to Auburn athletics is "limited." That's it -- "limited," whatever that means.

This isn't a slap on the wrist; it's a wet kiss on the ring finger. Someone who tried to sell his own son as if he were a football commodity essentially beat the rap.

You think the reverend cares whether he has limited access? Please. In all likelihood, his son has two games left in his Auburn career. And then Cam is off to the NFL, where the auction is sanctioned and done publicly. Amen, to that.

As expected, everyone involved issued the appropriate statements. The NCAA made its molar-less ruling. Auburn said it was pleased with that ruling. And SEC commissioner Mike Slive said, "The conduct of Cam Newton's father and the involved individual is unacceptable and has no place in the SEC or in intercollegiate athletics."

Duh. Of course it's unacceptable. But nothing the NCAA or the SEC did Wednesday is going to make this go away in the future. If anything, Cecil Newton provided a detailed road map for those parents or others looking to make a buck (or nearly $200,000) off their sons. Now everyone with their hands out knows the NCAA is powerless to do anything -- just as long as the kid has that plausible deniability.

And maybe it's just me, but the NCAA's phrase, "Based on the information available to the reinstatement staff at this time" caught my attention. Does that mean investigators are still digging? Or does it mean they've run out of shovels?

And if they are still digging, what happens if they find something after the Heisman vote? Or after the national championship game? Then what?

So Cam Newton is eligible -- for Saturday night's game against South Carolina, for the Heisman and for the BCS National Championship Game, should No. 1-ranked Auburn win the SEC title. But something still doesn't feel right.

The NCAA, for all its countless, mind-boggling rules, is apparently useless when it comes to a father trying to sell his son. Think about that for a minute. It's like a bad fairy tale:

Once upon a time, in the land of the SEC, the quarterback's scheming father and the evil scouting service owner decided they were going to auction off the quarterback to the highest bidder. Best of all, the quarterback would never, ever know.

Then one day, they were ratted out.

The handsome quarterback was ruled ineligible but then instantly reinstated by the NCAA, played for the SEC championship and remained the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, and everyone lived happily ever after.

Meanwhile, Cecil Newton is laughing all the way to his big, bad limited access. He got his happy ending. And, as it turns out, so did his son.

But here's the thing: This isn't the end; it's the beginning. Of loophole chaos.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

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