Fri Nov 05 08:22pm EDT
Thursday, the initial narrative was unfurled in the burgeoning recruiting scandal that's cast a sudden pall over undefeated Auburn and its Heisman-bound quarterback, Cameron Newton, who remains in the Tigers' lineup this weekend in the midst of a months-old NCAA investigation into his recruitment confirmed in corresponding reports by ESPN and the New York Times. Naturally, today was the day for the opening round of obligatory denials.
First up, there's an anonymous Auburn source who told the Associated Press that Kenny Rogers, the former Mississippi State player turned recruiting agent named in both reports as the shadowy figure who allegedly solicited six-figure payments from MSU on Newton's behalf last year, hasn't been in contact with Auburn:
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Auburn has had "no contact whatsoever" with a man who allegedly tried to secure payment from Mississippi State during the recruitment of Tigers quarterback and Heisman Trophy hopeful Cam Newton, according to a person familiar with the situation.
"Cam's eligibility has at no point been in jeopardy," the person said.
Next, there's Rogers himself, speaking publicly for the first time in an interview with an ESPN radio station in Dallas. Rogers acknowledged a relationship with the Newtons through his business, Elite Football Preparation, but denied ever taking money from a school or booster and claimed he hadn't spoken to his former teammate, John Bond – the primary source who told both ESPN and the Times he'd been solicited by a former teammate that both outlets subsequently identified as Rogers – since shortly after their playing days ended:
"A school has never payed me for a kid. An alumni has never paid me for a kid. Period, point-blank. That's why, when all this stuff is coming out like this, it's just crazy. ... I haven't talked to John in 20 years."
[...] "I help kids get in school. ... When I see a name go across the screen, I get in touch with that kid, to see if he has opportunities."
And then there's Newton himself, who insisted tonight that he's in the clear:
AUBURN – Cam Newton, Auburn’s junior quarterback said Friday as he boarded the team bus that he has a clear conscience heading into the home stretch of the season.
"I didn't do anything wrong," Newton said. "I'm blessed to be at Auburn right now. I'm sure the smoke will settle. I'm looking forward to the game tomorrow."
"It's been all right," Newton said. "I've had worse days."
So have the multiple reporters who broke the story big on Thursday, I'm sure. But now that the initial volleys have been returned, the ball is in their court to produce something harder than a contested allegation against a third party to prove that a probe at Mississippi State – which adamantly insists it handled the situation properly – is relevant to Newton and/or Auburn. Otherwise, it's just a lot of people saying "Wasn't me," and nothing to substantially contradict them.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.