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Cam Newton Investigation: Why Auburn's Wins Might Still Be Vacated

As you know if you've been awake and on the planet Earth for the last several hours, Cam Newton was ruled ineligible and then reinstated by the NCAA, which is a long way of saying that the star quarterback is eligible for the SEC Championship Game. The story probably still has a long way to go before it's all wrapped up, but the immediate problems for Auburn and Newton appear to be gone.

But the legalese is important here. And that's why I'm not as sure as Year2 is that "no wins are currently on the hook for being vacated." Here is the significant part of the NCAA's statement in full, without the excluded words.

"Our members have established rules for a fair and equal recruitment of student-athletes, as well as to promote integrity in the recruiting process," said Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president for academic and membership affairs. "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. From a student-athlete reinstatement perspective, Auburn University met its obligation under NCAA bylaw 14.11.1. Under this threshold, the student-athlete has not participated while ineligible." [Emphasis added]

That looks like the NCAA is explaining its reasoning for reinstating Newton without suspending him. The logic then flows into this bit about "from a student-athlete reinstatement perspective" and "NCAA bylaw 14.11.1." What does NCAA bylaw 14.11.1 say?

If a student-athlete is ineligible under the provisions of the constitution, bylaws or other regulations of the Association, the institution shall be obligated to apply immediately the applicable rule and to withhold the student-athlete from all intercollegiate competition. The institution may appeal to the Committee on Student- Athlete Reinstatement for restoration of the student-athlete’s eligibility as provided in Bylaw 14.12 if it concludes that the circumstances warrant restoration. [Emphasis added]

So what it appears to me that the NCAA is saying is this: Auburn ruled Cam Newton ineligible for whatever it found that caused all this activity this week. (My bet is that they nailed down the fact that Cecil Newton asked for money.) Auburn then appealed for reinstatement under NCAA bylaws, as they are allowed to do. Because Newton was ruled ineligible this week and the reinstatement was made this week, Newton has not participated while ineligible. In other words, he has not participated while ineligible because he was reinstated before Auburn played any games -- not because the NCAA is finding that he can't be ruled retroactively ineligible based on what they already know.

That, of course, doesn't mean that any of Auburn's wins necessarily will be vacated. And it would seem that the games he plays in from here on out will likely be safe, though future vacations could raise existential questions about whether a team could be a 1-8 SEC champion or a 2-12 national title holder. As with so many things about the Cam Newton investigation, those will have to be answered at a later date.