Auburn is 9-0, controls its own destiny to win the SEC West, and with a win in the SEC Championship Game is almost 100% certainly in the BCS Championship Game. Walking around the campus in east Alabama today, though, you’d hardly think that was the case. Instead the school that has risen from cellar dweller to national title contender in just 3 years now faces the distinct possibility of vacating all of their wins thanks to a “recruiting specialist” who may have solicited money for Cam Newton’s services. To add insult to injury, the alleged solicitation did not even involve Auburn University.
If the stories are correct Kenny Rogers, a former MSU Bulldog player and current advisor to football recruits looking for a college home, offered Mississippi State the services of Cam Newton at a discounted rate of $180,000. If Rogers is to be believed, there were offers on the table for $200,000, but MSU would get a “deal” because of Newton’s relationship with MSU head coach Dan Mullen.
I do not find it hard to believe Cam Newton was oblivious to the goings on here, at least until the very end. My guess is that the young man had, at minimum, strong suspicions about why his father was so eager that Cam attend Auburn rather than Mississippi State. He was long expected to head to Starkville where he could reunite with Dan Mullen, the offensive coordinator while both were at Florida. Suddenly Auburn becomes the destination of choice. Cam Newton has been quoted as saying his father made the final decision. And now, entering the 10th week of the college football season, Mississippi State leaks this story possibly in an attempt to head off its own NCAA investigation.
Obviously Newton signed with Auburn rather than the Bulldogs. I caution you, though, not to assume that Auburn paid for Newton. It certainly seems logical, but there does not appear to be any evidence at the moment to suggest Rogers or the Newton family received a dime from Auburn or its affiliates.
It certainly seems logical, though. Which leads to the bigger question: Exactly how common is this practice? I find it hard to believe Kenny Rogers, a former player at Mississippi State in the 1980s, dreamed up a number in hopes that someone would pay his ransom. Just like I find it hard to believe someone dreamed up the figure it would take to land Albert Means, the scandal that brought down Alabama (only to rise like Lazarus under evildoer Nick Saban).
The big concern for Auburn fans is that Cam’s eligibility will indeed be stripped. You see, it does not matter if Auburn was at all involved in some nefarious transaction. The NCAA mandates that athletes are ineligible if they – through a family member of other representative – solicit payment for his or her services. The only possible way out for the Newton family and Auburn – aside from this being 100% fabricated, a 100% impossibility – is for Rogers to admit that he asked for the cash with the intent of pocketing it all himself.
Even if Rogers did cop to that, wouldn’t your first question be: How can you guarantee delivery of this kid’s signature?
Truth be told, as a college football fan, I wish all of this weren’t true. Cam Newton has been a delight to watch. I was a huge skeptic going into this season, and the kid has delivered beyond the reasonable expectation of anyone – especially that of a lowly Arkansas blogger. And now it may all be for naught. The fact is that far too many reputable journalists are digging on this story. If the story is there, it will be found.
I have only heard one person, Dan Wetzel from Yahoo! Sports, talk about the greater issue here: How was the market set for Cam? Only the most small minded of people can really think this is an isolated incident. More and more we are seeing kids sign with “recruiting services” to help them get “matched” with the proper school where they can play football. This is where the Newton story originated. Kenny Rogers allegedly sought some money to Cam’s services. He represented Cam Newton and his family via Elite Football Preparation, a company organized to help athletes find the school that fulfills their needs.
What appears to be happening now, or at least what I hope is happening now, is the light of day being shown on the dark underbelly of big time college athletics. The bottom line is that big programs cheat, cut corners, and do whatever it takes to land big time prospects. They continue to do those things while the athletes are in school. Much like the stock market, the guys breaking the rules are at least one step ahead of the regulators charged with keeping everyone honest. And in an even great parallel to Wall Street, the people who write the rules also employ the people in charge of finding new ways to violate those rules. Why do you think the top schools stay at the top every year? Everyone has good athletes these days, so why do the same 5-10 teams compete for championships every year? It’s because those schools know how to make sure elite athletes land on their campuses. And it has very, very little to do with the endowment of the campus library.
This is not an exercise in pointing fingers. It could just as easily be Arkansas as Auburn, or North Carolina, or South Carolina, or … you get the point. It’s probably best for all college football fans to prepare themselves for a major investigation in the near future. Unfortunately for the sport, this is the only subject matter that could distract fans from the BCS v. Playoff debate – another headline-grabber that casts college football in a negative light.