Sprints Takes a Look at the Case Against Cam Newton // 11.05.10

UNSTOPPABLE FORCE MEETS UNMOVED BUREAUCRACY

As we sometimes do when we have big stories here in Sprints, we're going to give you the bullet points on things we know or are reasonably certain are true about the NCAA investigation of the recruitment of Cam Newton. That will be followed by the supporting stories, links, etc. And the reaction to the news around the Interwebs.

  • Cam Newton is being investigated. Auburn partisans are exactly right when they say that the NCAA investigation does not, at this time, appear to be directed at the university. But Newton is a target. That is a fact confirmed by (among others) Newton's own family. To some degree, that is a distinction without a difference; after all, if Newton broke the rules and is ruled retroactively ineligible, Auburn's wins are likely going to be vacated whether or not the school had any knowledge of the wrongdoing. There is also a difference between not being under investigation now and not being under investigation in the future; while the former certainly appears to be true, there are no guarantees about the latter.
  • Newton is eligible for now. This could again be a matter of semantics. Reggie Bush was technically eligible at the same time he was taking money from agents; he was later ruled retroactively ineligible, leading to the vacated wins and Heismans and (possibly) crystal footballs. Some reporting has indicated that Auburn has already investigated the claims involved here. If the university did so in good faith and found nothing, there's no reason to believe that the NCAA's investigation will turn out any differently -- unless new evidence is found. While the Auburn compliance staff does have some investigative functions, they can't compel a former Mississippi State quarterback to answer their questions. And while the NCAA also can't subpoena anyone, it seems more likely that a former player at a rival school will talk to the Association than to Auburn, no?
  • The news media is not to blame here. Notice that I said "the news media." Yes, some columnists have said some fairly intemperate things, but the reporters who have produced the news story did not create an NCAA investigation out of whole cloth. It was there and they reported on it. Why? Because when a Heisman Trophy contender and the indispensable player on the No. 2 team in the nation is under investigation by the NCAA, it's news. It is not a reporter's job to not report news if they know it's going on; in fact, we depend on reporters to tell us what they can confirm when they can confirm it. The PR side of things is Auburn's job, not the media's.

The supporting documentation begins after the jump.

One of the stories that started it all
There's been some question about whether ESPN or The New York Times "broke" the story. I first saw it on a NYT reporter's Twitter feed. When I started looking for more information after a quick post here, I found the ESPN story. It's quite possible that they were both reporting on the story and one reacted by completing its story once the other had nailed everything down. This happens more often than you might think. But the ESPN story seems to have the most detail.

Sources said Mississippi State refused to get involved with Rogers, whose association with Chicago-based agent Ian Greengross has come under scrutiny from the NFL Players Association and the NCAA.

NFLPA spokesman Carl Francis told ESPN.com on Thursday the organization is "in the process of investigating [Greengross and Rogers] as we speak for violations of our rules and regulations." ...

"We have been made aware of the allegation. Unfortunately, we cannot comment at this time," Auburn assistant athletic director, media relations Kirk Sampson said. "However, Cam Newton is eligible to play football at Auburn."

One of the more interesting aspects of this story is the background of the agent-ish person involved. Yes, his name is Kenny Rogers, though to my knowledge he has never sung a duet with Dolly Parton. Here is where we get a clue that there might be something to the Newton family's contention that Rogers did this without their knowledge.

Sources say that the agent is Greengross, and the recruiter is Kenny Rogers, who was working for Greengross. Smith said the recruiter -- who he did not name -- may have posed as an employee of the NFLPA in an attempt to influence players to hire the agent for representation. [Emphasis added]

Now, Rogers is as entitled to due process in this matter as Newton is entitled to due process in his. But we have someone here who allegedly tried to pass himself off as having more authority than he actually did in an effort to benefit his finances. Is it really that much of a stretch to think that he might have tried to do it again, and that we might have a case here of fraud on Rogers' part and not NCAA rules-breaking on Newton's part?

Finally -- no, the ESPN story was not a hit piece. Yes, Mark Schlabach went to Georgia. But he was far from the only bylined writer on the ESPN piece; the others were Chris Low and Pat Forde. I don't know where Chris Low went to school, though he covered Tennessee before moving to ESPN. Forde attended infamous Auburn-hating rival ... Missouri?

Not that it should matter where Schlabach or anyone else went to school, because the vast majority of journalists I've known honestly do try to keep their personal biases out of the reporting they do. Whether you believe that is up to you, of course, and there is a deeply-ingrained "kill the messenger" response whenever a story like this is reported. But the best way to undermine a story is to prove that someone got the facts wrong regardless of their college; no one has done so in this case, so until they do we're going to assume that ESPN got what they reported right. That means that the allegations and the investigation are out there. The rest is yet to be determined.

The former quarterback's full statement
You read it at the linked post, but an excerpt:

During the 2009 football season, I was contacted by a former football teammate, who represented to me that he was speaking for the Newton camp. He told me that Cam Newton wanted to play at Mississippi State, but that a specified payment would have to be made.

That's all we really know about the allegations, but it's certainly enough to validate a story being written.

Auburn might have investigated this
Of course, if you're going to attack reporters elsewhere for using anonymous sources, you can't also believe this reporting and be logically consistent.

Athletic department sources said Auburn's compliance department, in conjunction with the Southeastern Con[f]erence office, looked into the accusations after being made aware of them last summer and determined there had been no wrongdoing by Cam Newton or by Auburn.

And not to pile on here, but if you're going to attack people for supposedly ignoring facts, you might want to either prove in a news story on the same site that "The story was a collaborative effort" between the NYT and ESPN or leave that out.

Cecil Newton: There is an investigation ongoing
In his comments to news organizations about the story, Cam Newton's father has essentially confirmed that the NCAA is investigating -- in case there was any doubt left.

Cecil Newton told ESPN.com the family received a letter from the NCAA "about a month ago" asking for financial statements. The athletic department source said Auburn knew about the situation before Thursday.

"We are cooperating with the investigation," Cecil told the Opelika-Auburn News. "And the investigation will reveal nothing happened."

Auburn and Newton fans hope that's the case. (By the way, I personally think very highly of Newton and want to see any purported wrongdoing by Newton proven before anybody starts talking about taking Heisman votes away.)

Chizik: The story is over because I say it's over
This is either charmingly naive or just one of the inevitable steps in the story.

"Here’s what I can say loud and clear," Chizik said. "Cameron Newton is eligible at Auburn University. Period. End of story."

Of course, that is far from the end of the story. Again, if there's not there there, then the NCAA should eventually report that. But what did you expect Chizik to say -- "You got us"? There is no reason right now for Auburn to not play Newton; if he's found retroactively ineligible, the season is basically going to be blown to historical smithereens later no matter what happens now. But Chizik saying nothing is amiss here is not really a reason to back off the story, unless you're an Auburn fan.

NCAA hasn't talked to Florida
Which, again, is not to say that they won't in time.

A relatively measured take by -- Alabama fans?!?
Maybe it's empathy, but Roll Bama Roll has a considered piece on the reports and what they might mean.

Now, stating the obvious, this could be a huge story of Albert Means / Reggie Bush proportions. In all fairness, though, it could be all a bunch of hot air and half-baked allegations. We'll see in due time, so no use rushing to anything now. If this story is legitimate and if there indeed was a pay-for-play scheme, then I'm sure all of it will come to light in due time. If not, it'll rightly become a moot point.

And when it comes to Albert Means, Alabama fans know of what they speak.

OTHER NEWS

This wasn't quite as reasonable a choice before today
I'm not really that emotional about this one way or the other, because both games are going to be televised, but CBS's argument for going with Georgia-Auburn instead of South Carolina-Florida really makes no sense.

"The rationale was that Auburn was effectively No. 1 in the BCS, so it’s the old adage, ‘follow No. 1,’ and that’s essentially what you’re doing," Aresco said. "They’re playing a good Georgia team, like you saw last week. If you’re CBS and Auburn can potentially be upset, you want that game on CBS. Also, Cameron Newton is a huge success and gives that a lot of starpower."

Well, if the adage is "follow No. 1," then why won't we be seeing the showdown between Chattanooga and Auburn this weekend? Yes, Georgia has a far better chance of pulling the upset against Auburn than do the Mocs. But let's review the SEC Championship race implications of an Auburn loss:

 

Meanwhile, unless a coin-flip game in Columbia goes one way and Vanderbilt pulls off what would be the upset of the year in the SEC so far this year, the battle next weekend in the Swamp will be the SEC East title game. CBS can show whichever game it wants to, but I'm not sure I completely buy their reasoning here.

Mississippi State holds memorial for Nick Bell
Another step in recovering from a tragedy that no college student and no family of a college student should ever have to face.

Fulmer nixes Golden Gophers talk
Phil Fulmer says the Minnesota job is "not a good fit" for the former Tennessee head coach. Area Krispy Kremes have reportedly canceled their emergency orders.

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