November 10, 2010
If there's any aspect of the Cam Newton Affair that's seemed to work in Auburn's defense since the saga began to unfold last week, it was the odd timeline of the NCAA investigation. According to former Mississippi State quarterback John Bond, primary source in initial reports by ESPN and the New York Times, he was approached by a middleman soliciting $180,000 in exchange for Newton's signature to MSU last December, at which point he alerted the university, which reportedly ran it up to the SEC. Two other MSU sources who accused Newton and his father, Cecil, of specifically mentioning cash payments for Cam's services also told ESPN they ran the information up the chain in January.
But Bond said in the initial ESPN report that he wasn't contacted by the NCAA until early September, and Cecil Newton said in the same report that he received a letter from the NCAA requesting financial records "about a month ago," i.e. early October. So the SEC knew about the allegations against Newton in January, and the NCAA didn't get seriously involved until at least seven months later, well after the start of the season? What gives?
The answer: Procrastination, apparently. Mississippi State admitted in a statement this afternoon that it turned Newton in to the SEC last winter, but subsequently dragged its feet on providing information the conference needed to move forward. The entire statement:
Mississippi State University acknowledges that it contacted the Southeastern Conference office in January of 2010 regarding an issue relating to its recruitment of Cam Newton.
Shortly after the initial call, the SEC office requested specific information to include interviews with involved staff from MSU.
Due to MSU dealing with ongoing and time-consuming eligibility issues involving non-football matters in the winter and spring of 2010, the specific SEC request went unfulfilled. Some additional information was provided to the SEC during July of 2010. Once the NCAA enforcement staff became involved, Mississippi State University cooperated fully with its investigation. MSU is confident the SEC office has managed this process consistent with its established procedures and the university is committed to the conference's ongoing efforts to ensure compliance with SEC and NCAA rules.
If only explaining the gap in the Watergate tapes had been so easy. (Then again, the general public probably cared a lot less about the fate of Richard Nixon's presidency and reputation than Deep South football fans do right now about Cam Newton's eligibility. The threat of federal indictment is one thing; but the wrath of Paul Finebaum callers is more than anyone can withstand.)
The statement doesn't explain why, with potentially eligibility-crippling information in the SEC's hands this summer and in front of the NCAA by September at the latest, Newton has been allowed to continue playing when so many other high profile players have been forced to miss time this fall for offenses that fall well short of the windfall the Newtons are accused of soliciting. He'll continue playing this weekend against Georgia. That inconsistency seems to bode well for Auburn, unless its coaches and/or administration have decided to damn the torpedos and steam ahead as far as this baby will take them. Either way, a large piece of the puzzle been filled in.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.