November 17, 2010
At some point today, NCAA investigators met with Kenny Rogers, the ex-Mississippi State player turned quasi-agent who publicly admitted last week to soliciting former teammates and MSU coaches for cash on behalf of Cecil Newton, father of then JUCO-star Cam Newton, during his son's recruitment last year. In the meantime, one of those former teammates, Bill Bell, was busy recounting the specifics of his own NCAA interview to ESPN reporters – and corroborating Rogers' charges in illuminating detail:
Bill Bell, a Mississippi State booster and former player at the school, told the NCAA he received a text message from a man [Rogers] claiming to represent Cam Newton's father that outlined a payment plan designed to bring the quarterback to the Bulldogs.
Bell told ESPN.com he also shared a series of voice mail messages from Rogers with the NCAA last week. Bell said Cecil Newton never specifically asked him for money, but that Newton was present during three-way calls in which Rogers discussed a pay-for-play scheme.
Bell said he told the NCAA that Rogers sent him a text message outlining a payment schedule. Bell said the text included a request for $80,000 the day after Cam Newton signed his letter-of-intent with Mississippi State, $50,000 after 30 days after that and another $50,000 30 days later.
"When he asked for it, it was like, 'Bam!' " Bell said. "He told me this kid's dad is going to want money and the next day he sent me a text message. He didn't say anything other than, 'This is what I want and I want it in three installments.'"
Illuminating, and harrowing if you're an Auburn fan. Although Cecil Newton never overtly asked for money, Bell said, "he inferred it and talked about it," and reportedly told Bell that "[Mississippi State coach] Dan Mullen is going to have to put a smile on my face if he thinks he's going to get my son." Rogers' attorney told ESPN, "I believe [Newton] was insistent the calls be made" seeking payment.
But the bigger news here, by far, is the existence of audio evidence: Bell said he still has voice recordings of Rogers, which he played for investigators. He's also trying to retrieve the text messages he said Rogers sent to an old cell phone (since damaged by water) from his cell provider. At any rate, his account is the first (in the press, anyway) that attempts to back up an eyewitness allegation with more definitive, beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt proof.
Remember, the NCAA linked one of Reggie Bush's would-be agents to a USC assistant coach based largely on a single phone call, and it didn't know for sure what – or even who – was on that call. If Bell has Cecil Newton and/or a partner laying out a payment plan for his son's services on tape, then that's all she wrote for Cam Newton's eligibility. The verdict may not come in time to keep him from taking Auburn to the SEC and BCS championships (based on existing precedent, it certainly won't), but if what Bell is describing here can be backed up, and somehow doesn't constitute a smoking gun that will eventually put all of the Tigers' trophies at risk, this investigation has no point.
If that's the case, it's working awfully hard for a probe to nowhere. Besides Rogers and Bell, NCAA investigators have also reportedly met with another ex-Mississippi State teammate who claims he was solicited by Rogers, John Bond; with an Alabama graduate assistant who was on the MSU staff during Newton's recruitment and with both Cecil and Cam Newton last week. The FBI has met with Bond and is reportedly checking out a possible connection with an Auburn booster, Milton McGregor, who was arrested along with 10 Alabama state legislators last month in a federal investigation into an alleged bribery scheme to pass gambling legislation. Attorneys for Rogers and Bond have confirmed contact from the Mississippi attorney general's office.
Oh, and Cam Newton is still the starting quarterback for Auburn, and by all appearances will continue in that role until the ride comes to a complete stop.
- - -
Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.