Commentary

The Cam Newton affair still stinks

The unresolved issues are a dark cloud over Auburn, Mississippi State and the SEC

Originally Published: January 21, 2011
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

Cam Newton is no longer on the Auburn campus, but the stench from his father Cecil's pay-for-play scheme and bungled cover-up still hovers over college football likes gases over a landfill.

The smell has Auburn, Mississippi State, the Southeastern Conference and even the Heisman Trophy Trust holding their noses. And depending on whether the NCAA has completed its investigation or not, perhaps their breath, too. There remains no closure, no neat bow on the Newton box.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesCam Newton is moving on, but Auburn, Mississippi State and the SEC might not have heard the last of him.

Cam Newton has his Heisman and now his freedom -- he declared for the NFL draft and is no longer attending classes at Auburn. But do we really know for sure if he was a victim, an innocent bystander or a co-conspirator?

Auburn has its crystal football and its BCS championship. But was it more concerned about protecting Cam Newton, or protecting Newton's eligibility in pursuit of that crystal trophy?

Mississippi State, which first phoned in the Cecil Newton allegation to the SEC office, has its whistleblower status. But if there was a race between a glacier and the Mississippi State in-house investigatory team, wouldn't you bet on the glacier to win?

The SEC has separation from the Newton mess -- it's in the NCAA's hands now -- but just because the league's commissioner declared there wasn't a violation of conference bylaws, does that make it true?

Nobody has come out of this without spaghetti stains on his dress shirt. It is a situation created out of greed, sustained by moments of incompetence and empowered by arrogance.

A quarterback's father (a reverend, by the way) shopped his son like you shop a used car on Craigslist. There were public denials and lies from Cecil Newton but never an apology or explanation after he got caught.

Compare that to Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, one of five Buckeyes players who sold championship rings and memorabilia in exchange for money and/or discounted tattoos. Pryor not only apologized to his teammates, but he apologized on national television after the Buckeyes beat Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl. Accountability matters.

There is nothing convenient or easy about the Newton case. It has no smooth edges. Questions outnumber answers.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton & Cecil Newton
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesCecil Newton (behind his son here) so far has escaped unscathed.

According to SEC doctrine, Mississippi State should have presented a formal response to the league within 30 days of reporting the Newton allegations. It didn't. January became February. February eventually became late summer before details finally emerged.

The widely respected Greg Sankey, who oversees the league's compliance department as associate commissioner, was interested in discovering the truth. But the SEC's own protocol required Mississippi State to become CSI Starkville. The league junked its investigative department not long after Mike Slive was hired as SEC commissioner in 2002. How's that working out?

If the SEC got beat up (and it did) because those policies were questioned, it's partly the league's fault. The Big Ten concluded its inquiry into the Pryor & Co. situation in less than a week. But the SEC couldn't nudge its institutions to move things along in less than seven months?

Meanwhile, Slive was left to explain how Cecil Newton hadn't violated league Bylaw 14.01.3.2, which says a student-athlete's college playing career is finished the moment that athlete or family member "receives or agrees to receive" extra benefits.

Cecil Newton certainly wanted to receive the $180,000 he solicited from Mississippi State. But because Mississippi State hadn't agreed to Newton's demands, there was no actual deal in place -- so ruled Slive and the SEC.

That's interesting, especially since the NCAA ruled that Cecil Newton did commit a violation by shopping Cam to another school. It even issued a statement saying so. But because there was nothing to link the Heisman Trophy winner to the pay-for-play scheme "at this time," the quarterback was ruled eligible by the NCAA's reinstatement staff. And Cecil skated away.

The NCAA has kicked the tires on this case for months. If it kicks them anymore, there won't be any rubber left on the sidewalls. You don't know if the investigation is reaching critical mass or inertia.

[+] EnlargeMike Silve
AP Photo/ Butch DillSEC commissioner Mike Slive had some uncomfortable explaining to do.

Anyway, we're way past, "Did Cam know?" Auburn said he didn't know and that was that. And now the NCAA has to suture up that gaping loophole, or else everybody is going to use the "I didn't know" defense.

What matters is if money changed hands, if money was laundered and if Mississippi State was the only school approached by Cecil Newton. So far, nothing.

Of course, Auburn officials who know Cam Newton well say it's entirely possible that he didn't have a clue about his father's actions. He's a 10-year-old in a man's body. He's Tom Hanks in "Big," an innocent. He'd rather play with other kids than deal with adults.

That's what they say, at least.

Everybody has a theory and an explanation when it comes to the Newton case. But nobody has the answers. Not yet.

This could be the case where nobody gets exactly what he wants. The NCAA might not be able to punish anyone. The Newtons don't get unquestioned absolution. College football doesn't get closure. The truth has so many shades of gray.

All we know for sure is that Cam Newton is gone and his crooked dad is gone with him. And we know the SEC, Auburn and Mississippi State consider the matter closed.

But it doesn't feel closed. It feels empty.

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. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.

MORE COMMENTARY »

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter