A new look at Newton, dad

Auburn quarterback Cam Newton was awarded the Heisman Trophy on Saturday for being the nation’s most outstanding college football player.

It was the proper call. He was the best, most valuable and, considering the avalanche that descended on him, strongest-minded player in America. If the NCAA wasn’t willing to declare him ineligible – effectively calling its own rules meaningless – no one else should care about said rules.

There was only one thing missing from the dream night: his father Cecil, who the NCAA says asked Mississippi State for $180,000 during his son’s recruitment. (There’s no allegation the Newtons asked for, or received, anything from Auburn).

Cam Newton won the Heisman, but the debate won't end anytime soon.
(Kelly Kline / Getty Images)

In an effort to not upstage Cam’s big moment, Cecil skipped the ceremony. Cam’s mother did attend. The son previously said he’d soon call his father to share the joy.

On Friday, Cam Newton was asked by reporters if he was disappointed in his father for shopping him.

“No, I am not,” Cam said. “I said on numerous occasions how I feel about my father. I love him with all my heart.”

The Cam Newton situation has been complicated, emotional and controversial. It’s overwhelmed much of the season. The NCAA caused a firestorm when it ruled him eligible to play for what many in college athletics thought was a clear violation.

No matter where you stand, the whole thing was a mess.

Newton’s answer about his father, though, may be one of few bright lights.


NCAA amateurism statutes, often arcane rules based on a self-serving business concept, did not rip apart this family. That’s a positive. Cecil Newton has been called practically every name in the book by practically everyone in the sport. His son hasn’t bought any of it.

Score one for common sense. NCAA rules are NCAA rules. Family is family.

This isn’t to wholly excuse Cecil Newton, although some will misconstrue it as such. Fans, understandably, just want the games to go on, the excitement to continue, the system to churn. Not everyone is a fan, though. And everyone should agree the NCAA rulebook shouldn’t be the final arbitrator on morality.

Cecil’s actions clearly put his son in a tough position. He risked this fallout. He could’ve gone down a different path. He also didn’t do anything that should damage his family relationships.

What are all these rules? Who made them? Who agreed to them? Who is the NCAA? And if the NCAA doesn’t care to enforce its own rules, then what are they really worth?

Exactly why should Cam Newton, who is worth millions to a university, whose jersey is being sold all over the school website, who fills stadiums and boosts television ratings, be asked to play football for just room, board and tuition – an amount far below his market value?

Why? Because the NCAA says he should.

They say it, in part, because it protects college athletics’ tax-free status and tradition of non-compensation for its meal-ticket athletes. It funds their salaries, their private jets, their six-figure bonuses.

Big-time college sports are too often like pro wrestling. There are times everyone has to pretend that things are what they aren’t.

They have to agree that this billion-dollar industry is just an extracurricular activity of an institute of higher learning. They have to claim the game is pure in the face of wealthy boosters, eager sports agents and all-encompassing academic tutors. They have to nod approval at multimillion-dollar coach and athletic director contracts.

They have to contend that administrators are concerned with the best interests of the players – the same players they deny professional representation, do not provide lifetime health care for after serious injury and claim ownership of their likeness even decades after leaving campus.

To assist in the illusion, the NCAA creates rules, even if, at times, they don’t appear to believe in them. It determined Cecil violated its bylaw 12.3.3. It then determined that it merited essentially no penalty.

Rule? What rule?

And yet we demand that Cecil Newton respect these guys and those rules?


The Newtons had already seen what major college football was about. Cam played two seasons at Florida before leaving for junior college. Last year they returned, once again a coveted recruit because coaches envisioned the 6-foot-6 quarterback might do something like throw for 28 touchdowns, rush for 20 more and even catch one for good measure.

Cam Newton's incredible season belied the pressure he faced as the controversy grew.
(John David Mercer / US Presswire)

Cecil Newton has been vilified because he sought extra benefits for the services of his son. That’s what kept him from beaming with pride at the iconic trophy presentation in Manhattan.

What if you flip it around, though? If you see college athletics through a different prism, you may see the action of Cecil Newton differently also. Maybe not 100 percent right, but perhaps not 100 percent wrong, either.

Would he have been a better father if he just let coaches, athletic directors, universities, commissioners, television networks, bowl directors and so on and so on profit off his son in exchange for a deal that was well below his value?

Was he wrong to demand more from the establishment that had plenty to give? Was he misguided to look at the charade and say not this time, not with my son?

Is letting Cam play for “free” in the face of rampant profiteering really better than asking for some of the action?

It would’ve been easier, sure. Would’ve it been right? If your son was an actor, would you let him star in a Disney movie for free because Disney said so?

Yes, Cam Newton is going to make big money in the NFL soon enough – if he doesn’t get injured. And that’s the thing; there are no guarantees for Cam. And there certainly weren’t any last year when he was picking a school. His pro potential wasn’t assured then.

Cam Newton isn’t getting a share of all those No. 2 jerseys that are being worn across the South. He didn’t receive a $225,000 bonus for winning the SEC title, like his coach did. He won’t get $500,000 more for the BCS title either.

He may have scored 10 touchdowns in his last two games, but he isn’t getting a cut of the $19.99 commemorative DVDs of those games that the school is selling as stocking stuffers.

The “No. 2 Heisman Hopeful” shirts available on the Auburn website? Nope. The framed pictures of him that can cost up to $289? Of course not. Will the NCAA claim the right to forever sell his likeness in video games and car commercials? You bet it will.

Cecil Newton saw all of this. He saw his son’s ability. He saw all the schools circling, saw the system dying to get a hold of a commodity that could help deliver games, glory and lots and lots of money. He saw the boosters and their desperation to win.

So he asked for some.

Tales of pay-for-play are as old as the game itself. If there had never been a buyer (the schools themselves), then there never would’ve been any sellers. Cecil Newton was just wading into the longstanding underground economy of college athletics.

The fact he asked for such an unusual amount – $180,000 – suggests he didn’t invent the figure off the top of his head. He was working with a veteran recruiting middle man. They asked for that sum because they thought they could get it; perhaps because someone else offered $150,000. Which means some other coach/booster had told him his son was worth more than a scholarship.

Yet Cecil Newton is the bad guy for asking for something close to what the market would bear? Meanwhile all of the suits who run the game can sip cocktails and enjoy the Heisman ceremony?

Why, because one dad did not respect the NCAA, its wobbly rule book and situational ethics? Why, for considering it all a sham and asking for a share?

That might be why Cam Newton says he isn’t upset with his father.

Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Saturday, Dec 11, 2010