The NCAA, displaying uncharacteristic swiftness, has ruled Cameron Newton fully eligible to play. I can only assume it moved this quickly because of how much is on the line at this point: Auburn's undefeated season, the SEC title, and a berth in the BCS National Championship Game.
Let's pull out some key pieces from the release.
Auburn University football student-athlete Cam Newton is immediately eligible to compete, according to a decision today by the NCAA student-athlete reinstatement staff. The NCAA concluded on Monday that a violation of amateurism rules occurred, therefore Auburn University declared the student-athlete ineligible yesterday for violations of NCAA amateurism rules. NCAA rules (Bylaw 12.3.3) do not allow individuals or entities to represent a prospective student-athlete for compensation to a school for an athletic scholarship.
This part means that the NCAA formally decided yesterday that it had enough evidence to sit Newton down. Today, the reinstatement committee lived up to its name by reinstating him. To all those who though he'd be declared ineligible: you're right. He was. To those who thought he'd never miss a game: you're also right. He won't. Everyone's right!
Anyway, the bylaw that the NCAA says was crossed is about representing a player. It was not about the actual receipt of benefits. That indicates that right now, the NCAA doesn't believe that Cecil Newton received money from anyone.
Newton was reinstated without any conditions.
At the moment, Newton is unequivocally eligible to play. Period.
According to facts of the case agreed upon by Auburn University and the NCAA enforcement staff, the student-athlete's father and an owner of a scouting service worked together to actively market the student-athlete as a part of a pay-for-play scenario in return for Newton's commitment to attend college and play football.
This is the first we've seen that has anyone at Auburn agreeing to the fact that something fishy went on with Newton's recruitment. We now have three separate institutions (Mississippi State, Auburn, and the NCAA) all agreeing that Cecil Newton shopped his son. The unnamed owner of the scouting service is, of course, Kenny Rogers.
In conjunction with the case, Auburn University has limited the access Newton's father has to the athletics program and Mississippi State has disassociated the involved individual.
As of now, these are the only penalties being handed out. Cecil Newton has limited access to the program, which probably means something along the lines of him being able to attend games and talk to his son but not much else. Rogers is now disassociated with Mississippi State, which basically means that he can no longer have any contact with anyone at the school.
"The conduct of Cam Newton's father and the involved individual is unacceptable and has no place in the SEC or in intercollegiate athletics," said Mike Slive, Southeastern Conference Commissioner. "The actions taken by Auburn University and Mississippi State University make it clear this behavior will not be tolerated in the SEC."
Loosely translated: "I'm mad as hell that this incident has brought up the specter of cheating around my conference, especially because I swore I'd clean up the league." Of note is that he praised Auburn's actions and not just those of the whistleblowers in Starkville. Perhaps that means he's just glad that Auburn complied with all of the NCAA investigators' requests, but to me it sounds like he doesn't believe Auburn did anything wrong through the entire chain of events.
Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president for academic and membership affairs [said,] "In determining how a violation impacts a student-athlete's eligibility, we must consider the young person's responsibility. 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. ... the student-athlete has not participated while ineligible."
I did some editing here to cut down on legalese, but the meaning is intact. The NCAA ruled that because neither Cam Newton nor Auburn knew that Cecil and Rogers were shopping Cam's services, Cam is clear to play. It also says that Cam hasn't played while ineligible, which means no wins are currently on the hook for being vacated.
Note the caveats though: "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." That wording indicates that the overall investigation is not done. In fact, two paragraphs later, the NCAA drops a serious hint that we haven't heard the last of this one:
Reinstatement decisions are independent of the NCAA enforcement process and typically are made once the facts of the student-athlete's involvement are determined. The reinstatement process is likely to conclude prior to the close of an investigation.
I can't see anything in the release that suggests that this reinstatement ruling will be overturned. The NCAA sounds pretty confident that Cam Newton is and has always been eligible (aside from the 24 hour window of ineligibility from yesterday to today).
I'm not an NCAA insider, so I don't know how the rest of this plays out. Could the enforcement staff still be waiting on information from the FBI? I guess that's possible.
It also could be deliberating on how both Mississippi State and Auburn handled this case. For instance, Rogers says that MSU coaches first heard requests for money from him and Cecil Newton the day before last year's Egg Bowl. MSU didn't report anything to the SEC until January, and it didn't fulfill the conference's request for more information until July.
So while we no longer have to worry about Cam Newton being declared ineligible, the story isn't over yet.