November 11, 2010
Update, 5:11 pm ET: For more on this afternoon's late-breaking developments in the Newton case, click here.
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Late Tuesday night, ESPN's Joe Schad blew the lid off the simmering Cam Newton Affair when he cited multiple Mississippi State staffers who directly accused Newton and his father of shopping the quarterback's signature for cash during his re-recruitment out of junior college last winter. According to Schad, the MSU sources alleged that a) They had been part of separate conversations in which Newton and his father alluded to soliciting or receiving money in exchange for Newton's commitment, and b) They swiftly reported the conversations up the chain of command:
Two sources who recruit for Mississippi State said that Cecil Newton and his son, quarterback Cam Newton, said in separate phone conversations that his college choice would be part of a pay-for-play plan while Newton was being recruited late last year.
Mississippi State compliance officials relayed the alleged conversations to Southeastern Conference compliance officials in January, according to two other sources close to the football program.
Mississippi State copped to half of that Wednesday, admitting in a press release that, yes, the ongoing NCAA investigation into Newton's recruitment and eventual signing at Auburn is likely a direct result of MSU's report to the SEC earlier this year. But that statement didn't mention the "conversations" attributed to the Newtons in Schad's report. And an SEC spokesman told the Associated Press Wednesday night that the information the university sent to the conference left out that part, too:
In a statement, Mississippi State's athletic department said Wednesday that it first contacted the Southeastern Conference regarding "an issue relating to its recruitment of Cam Newton." The statement said the SEC asked for specific information including interviews with university staffers. Mississippi State didn't provide more information until July, citing "time-consuming eligibility issues" related to other sports, presumably those involving basketball players Renardo Sidney and Dee Bost.
The statement said Mississippi State has "cooperated fully" with NCAA investigators, but did not make any reference to the alleged phone calls between recruiters and the Newtons.
SEC spokesman Charles Bloom said Wednesday evening that there was also no mention of the reported conversations in either of the school's reports to the league.
That "omission" may help explain the lack of urgency by both Miss. State and the SEC that allowed the case to sit on the shelf for a good six months after the university's initial report. "Omission" gets scare quotes in this case because if it wasn't an omission on MSU's part – if the alleged conversations that clearly incriminate the Newtons never made it to university officials, or they didn't view them as credible enough to pass along to the conference – then Schad's report is hanging by a thread, at best. The fact that the SEC says it didn't get word of the most explosive allegations against Newton (and, by extension, Auburn) doesn't mean those allegations aren't true. But it does leave Schad's report with a significant factual hole based on apparent misinformation from his sources, which throws the rest of the piece open to skepticism.
If it didn't include direct conversations with the Newtons, then Mississippi State's report to the SEC was almost certainly based on the word of former quarerback John Bond, who claims he was approached by a former teammate soliciting $180,000 on Newton's behalf last September. But that story doesn't necessarily implicate Cam or Cecil Newton or Auburn until a direct financial connection to the alleged middleman and either the family or the university has been established. As of now, it has not – at least, not on the record.
Schad's report is the only one so far directly alleging NCAA violations. If his sources don't hold up, we're right back where we started: With a lot of smoke, but no direct ties putting any of the relevant parties or institutions in the fire. If they do, the ball is in his court to prove it.