LEXINGTON, KY - OCTOBER 09: Cam Newton #2 of the Auburn Tigers throws a pass as he warms up before the SEC game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Commonwealth Stadium on October 9, 2010 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
I don't have any inside information on this Cam Newton thing, but having read a lot of the reports out there, I can synthesize three possible scenarios for what went down. I'm not telling you these are the only three, but they could be plausible given all the information currently known.
SCENARIO 1: THE LONE GUNMAN
Kenny Rogers is a shady character, already having gotten in trouble for falsely claiming to be an NFLPA employee. Seeing an opportunity, he began calling up schools known to be interested in Newton and asking for $200,000 in exchange for Newton's services. He pretended to be in the Newton camp just like when he faked being NFLPA employee, and he hoped that whatever school Newton committed to (or one of its boosters) would fall for his scheme and send him a payment after Newton signed.
This scenario is basically the one that Cam and Cecil Newton are putting forward: that Rogers is a sleaze bag who worked alone in trying to bilk schools out of money. Because he was never officially representing the Newton family, Cam is completely eligible to play just as Gene Chizik asserts.
It'd be really nice if this story turns out to be the correct one, but you'd have to be awfully naive to take the stance right now that it's true and that's it. Interestingly, the amount of money involved does somewhat point to this scenario. The $200,000 amount is what an Alabama booster paid Albert Means in 2000, and we've had 10 years of inflation and growth in college football since then. You'd think the going rate for a highly coveted recruit had gone up during that time.
SCENARIO 2: THE BEAR MARKET
Cecil Newton, in need of some money, verbally makes a deal with Rogers to shop his son's services to various schools. Rogers tells each school that he has offers for $200,000 to drum up interest when really he doesn't. Knowing that Mississippi State might be desperate to get a player of Cam's abilities, he even invents a 10% discount, hoping the school bites. In the end, no one offers any money. Cam Newton goes to Auburn like any other recruit would, and, in the absence of any written evidence about the deal with Rogers, he's eligible to play.
On the surface, this one feels unlikely. It goes against every stereotype there is about college football. However if Mississippi State, which employed Jackie Sherrill not that long ago, could resist the offer, then other schools might be able to as well. Plus, the only instances of institutional malfeasance to be brought to light during this dirty, dirty year of college athletics are USC's Sgt. Schultz routine regarding Reggie Bush and North Carolina's employ of a crooked coach in John Blake. The rest of the stories involving agents and extra benefits didn't go through schools.
To my knowledge, none of the assistants on Auburn's staff have the reputation that Blake had even before the UNC scandals came out. It could also be the case that no one wanted to deal with Rogers, who was known to have a relationship with NFL agent Ian Greengross. It may also just be that Rogers is a truly lousy pimp, to use Nick Saban's word, and he only contacted guys like John Bond who do things on the up and up. I'm not thinking that this one is the most plausible of the three, but there is Hanlon's Razor to consider.
SCENARIO 3: SMOOTH CRIMINALS
Cecil Newton, in need of some money, verbally makes a deal with Rogers to shop his son's services to various schools. Rogers does so. Mississippi State doesn't bite, but someone from Auburn does. No one from the school itself pays up, of course, because no one has been that stupid in a long time. Boosters somehow funnel the money through Rogers to Newton, who never deposits any of it in his bank accounts. With no paper trail about the agreement or payment and Newton's bank records clean, Auburn believes Cam Newton to be eligible as the NCAA can prove nothing.
This is the scenario for all you cynics and conspiracy theorists out there. Auburn somehow did get money to the Newton family, but because of the skill of those moving the cash, the cover up was good enough that Auburn thinks it can get away with it. It would be pretty brazen if true, given that the NCAA has been looking into this for months and Auburn has still been playing Newton.
I'd like to believe this scenario is out of the question, but I don't know if we can rule it out 100%. To paraphrase Dr. Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park, I'm simply saying that money finds a way. People have all kinds of creative ways to get funds from one place to another, and those who do it professionally (allegedly like this Rogers guy, for instance) are always going to be ahead of the understaffed compliance departments of the NCAA and its member institutions.
To wrap up, I think there are several data points in Cam Newton's favor here.
- Mississippi State got word from John Bond about the money request from Rogers, and it decided to continue recruiting Newton anyway. The school must not have figured the ties between the Newtons and Rogers were close.
- Cecil Newton told the Newnan City Council that he had the funds to renovate his dilapidated church building on September 22, 2009. That's well before December 31, when Newton signed with Auburn.
- Auburn has known about these allegations for months, and yet it never held Newton out for even a practice much less a game.
I'm leaning toward Scenario 1 being true for now, but who knows what information is waiting to leak out. I just feel bad for Newton, who seems like a really good kid who learned his lesson after the laptop incident at Florida.