November 04, 2010
Someone may want to bar the stairwell doors tonight in Auburn – both the New York Times' Pete Thamel and ESPN are reporting that Heisman frontrunner Cameron Newton, absurdly talented star of the surprise No. 2 team in the nation, is being investigated by the NCAA for accusations that a handler tried to extort money in exchange for Newton's signature during his recruitment out of Blinn (Texas) Junior College last winter:
Former Mississippi State quarterback John Bond told ESPN.com that a teammate of Bond's at Mississippi State in the early 1980s contacted him soon after Newton's official visit to Mississippi State during the Ole Miss game in December, and said he was representing Newton. "He said it would take some cash to get Cam," Bond said. "I called our athletic director, Greg Byrne, and he took it from there. That was pretty much it." Multiple sources told ESPN.com that Mississippi State called the SEC office with Bond's information shortly after he brought it to the attention of the school.
Sources told ESPN.com that the former teammate is Kenny Rogers, who played at Mississippi State from 1982-85. Rogers operates a Chicago-based company called Elite Football Preparation, which holds camps in Chicago, Alabama and Mississippi. ... A Birmingham News story from 2008 said Elite Football Preparation "matches high school athletes with college programs."
Bond said the former teammate told him other schools had already offered $200,000, but that since Newton really liked Mississippi State and already had a relationship with head coach Dan Mullen dating to when both were at Florida, Mississippi State could get him for $180,000.
On second thought, maybe Tiger fans should panic.
Bond reportedly told Thamel the same thing, insisting that Mississippi State declined the offer, has met with the NCAA and has acted properly throughout the process. Newton's father, Cecil, told ESPN that he'd submitted financial records to the NCAA, but if anyone tried to solicit money on behalf of his son, "he did it on his own, without our knowledge." The family has also retained an attorney.
To be clear, Newton has not been declared ineligible. The investigation is ongoing, he remains on track to play Saturday against UT-Chattanooga and it's not clear a this point that he or Auburn are specifically accused of doing anything wrong. (It's not even clear that his recruitment to the Plains is specifically under investigation, although it would be a pretty lame investigation if it wasn't.)
Clearly, though, one of the great redemption stories in college football teeters on the brink. Two years removed from throwing away a golden ticket at Florida as heir apparent to Tim Tebow by tossing a stolen laptop out of a dorm window, Newton had apparently put his head down, paid his penance in the JUCO ranks and made good in spectacular fashion as the absurdly gifted, wildly popular, permanently smiling face of a team streaking toward a potential BCS Championship berth.
You'd have a hard time finding anyone who could imagine Auburn sitting at 9-0, including four wins by a touchdown or less, without its star quarterback. Depending on how it plays out, those may be some of the most expensive wins the Tigers have ever earned.
[Update, 8:17 p.m. ET] Gene Chizik responded to the story on his weekly radio show: "Here's what I can say very loud and very clear: Cameron Newton is eligible at Auburn, period. End of story."
See also: Friday's Cam Newton eligibility primer.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.