The Cameron Newton scandal fascinates me. Here’s a big-time college fraud investigation in the middle of a national title and Heisman run. College football has never seen such a real-time blend of the best and worst the sport has to offer.
But even without the scandal, the Atlanta native is a conference changer. Consider that Newton could be at Florida right now and the Gators would have no Tebow hangover. They’d be in the national title race, rather than enduring their worst season under Urban Meyer. Newton could be playing for his old coach, Dan Mullen, at Mississippi State right now. The Starkville Bulldogs are much improved under Mullen, but with Newton I believe Mississippi State would have ruled the west this year and quite likely been in the position Auburn is now, since the Bulldogs’ defense is much better than the Tigers’.
But no, Newton backed away from Mullen and signed with Auburn. And Tiger Coach Gene Chizik, who was viewed by many as a joke hire, is now three wins away from a national championship in his second year, with Newton being the clear difference maker. If the smoke clears and Chizik hoists that trophy minus NCAA sanctions, he’ll be a hero in Alabama for years to come. If cheating is discovered, and a title is stripped away, the school could lose numerous scholarships and games in the next few years, with Chizik’s hero status relegated to the “tragic” variety.
But how did Newton, who seemed bound for Mississippi State, change his mind and go to Auburn? That’s now the focus of an NCAA investigation.
Right now, believing the Newtons are totally innocent of seeking pay for the quarterback’s scholarship signature requires one thing: the belief that recruiters at Mississippi State have conspired to fabricate charges of wrongdoing against the Newtons. That’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility, but as a casual observer, it’s harder to believe in such a conspiracy than to believe that a financially struggling father of a spectacularly talented athlete sought a payoff for the services of his son.
Rumors are always rampant. And we’re dealing with a lot of that. But we’re also looking at on-the-record statements made to conference and NCAA investigators that spell out a pay-for-play scheme.
If you lie to the NCAA — and your name is not Bruce Pearl — then you certainly risk losing your job. And with the FBI involved, you face real legal trouble for fibbing on this. It’s hard to understand why folks at Mississippi State would risk their own necks if the allegations didn’t have some merit. After signing with Auburn, Newton reportedly told one Mississippi State recruiter that he wanted to play for the Bulldogs, but the “money was too good” at Auburn.
This remains the biggest bombshell of this investigation. I’m eager to hear the details of this statement. Who did he allegedly say this to? When? Does that person have any way to prove the claim? Obviously, if there’s truth in this statement, then there was money exchanged. If that happened, was it purely cash that was not deposited, and is thus, not necessarily able to be traced? What is the financial status of the elder Newton’s churches. Has that changed significantly in the last year and a half. If so, how and why?
Beyond the specifics of this case, what is going on in big-time college recruiting? We always hear talk of pay-for-play recruiting, but how prevalent is it? Mississippi State spoke up, but are other schools keeping quiet when there’s some alleged funny business? Is there a code of “don’t rat us out and we won’t rat you out?”
Whatever happens, the next month will be quite fascinating. I didn’t think I’d see anybody as impressive as Tebow behind center for some time. But I think Newton blows him away, which is even more interesting because he was Tebow’s understudy.
Of course, Tebow had that squeaky clean image.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see what Newton is most known for — his play or his alleged pay. It’s an interesting story either way.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.