November 05, 2010
Overwhelmed by the labyrinth of sources, allegations, innuendo and misdirection of the latest turn in the Cameron Newton saga? Confused as to who, exactly, is in hot water? Or why Newton will be still be suiting up this weekend, despite college football's collective seizure Thursday afternoon? Get up to speed on the last 24 hours in Cam with this FAQ:
What do we know? Like, really know? Former Mississippi State quarterback John Bond told reporters from the New York Times and ESPN that he was solicited by a man claiming to represent Newton when every program in the South was trying to sign Newton out of a Texas junior college last fall. The man said he could secure Newton's signature for MSU, but "a specified payment would have to be made" – reportedly $180,000. (Read Bond's press release, saying essentially the same thing.) Bond ran the meeting up the ladder at Mississippi State, which rebuffed the offer and reported it to the SEC. Both ESPN and the Times report the solicitation came from Bond's former Bulldog teammate in the early eighties, Kenny Rogers.
Associate commissioner Greg Sankey acknowledged to the NYT that he'd been forwarded information about Rogers "months ago" and passed it along to Auburn. Bond admitted he'd been interview by an NCAA investigator in September. Newton's father, Cecil, told ESPN he'd submitted financial records to the NCAA, but "if Rogers tried to solicit money from Mississippi State, he did it on his own, without our knowledge."
So who is Kenny Rogers? ESPN describes Rogers as an "agent" who "matches high school athletes with college programs" for a Chicago-based company, Elite Football Preparation, that holds camps for prospects in Chicago, Alabama and Mississippi. The Times adds that Rogers shares a joint banking account with NFL agent Ian Greengross under the name "Greengross Athletic Management Enterprises," and notes that he told ESPNChicago.com that he "specializes in transfers and players who have been kicked out of school." Rogers is being investigated by the NFL Players Association for posing as an NFLPA employee.
If you're an Auburn fan, this makes him a disreputable, hook-handed charlatan whose word should be immediately dismissed in any and all circumstances. If you're anyone else, it makes him exactly the kind of person you'd expect to insert himself as a middleman in the recruitment of a high-profile JUCO recruit.
What's the damage? Right now, nothing but a lot of red flags. Newton is eligible, according to the school, and scheduled to play as usual Saturday against Chattanooga. "Someone close to the athletic department" told al.com's Charles Goldberg that the NCAA hasn't accused Auburn of any wrongdoing.
What don't we know? Is there a confirmable link between Rogers and Auburn, or someone closely associated with Auburn? Between Rogers and Newton, or Newton's family? Is there a paper trail? How are the cash-strapped churches where Cecil Newton is a pastor involved? His construction business? Why was there almost a year lag between the alleged offer to Bond and his interview with the NCAA? Did Urban Meyer really encourage Dan Mullen to snitch?
Worst-case scenario for Newton/Auburn? The smoke pouring out of the most credible off-the-record pipelines suggests most of those questions (with the exception of the Meyer thing) will be eventually answered in pretty damning fashion for player and school alike, though not necessarily in terms that will lead to the kind of retribution . The most obvious, explosive implications of the hard news accounts that can't be stated outright in those accounts (yet) is that Newton was for sale to the highest bidder, that bidder was Auburn or someone associated with Auburn and the money was funneled through the elder Newton's church(es). (See this brief visual summary.) If any part of that is ever proven, Newton would be ineligible, every victory he played in would be vacated and serious sanctions would be on the way. If all of it's true, get out your hymnal and start singing for their souls.
Again, we are still talking smoke, for now – let me emphasize that: for now – much of which may never materialize into hard evidence. This isn't court, but the outcome still depends as much on what can be proven to an NCAA jury as on what's actually true. (For fans of "The Wire," think of Herc on his pursuit of Marlo Stanfield: "I know he's a drug dealer. I can't prove it or nothing. But I know." Knowing and proving aren't the same thing.) But the smoke hasn't been conjured out of thin air. And it's pretty clear that scaring off a few Heisman voters is the least of the potential consequences, by far.
Best-case? The smoke clears without revealing any hard evidence. Newton and Auburn are both cleared of any wrongdoing, he wins the Heisman in New York and Auburn wins the BCS championship with no repercussions. The fact that Newton has played and will apparently continue to play well after the NCAA has caught wind of the situation is certainly a sign that Auburn expects to make it through unscathed.
How many Auburn fans will leave the words "bitter," "jealous," "haters" and/or "agenda" in the comments? How many are there? That many.
Bottom line? If you're indicting Cameron Newton or Auburn based on what's been published over the last 24 hours, you're jumping to premature conclusions. I have a vote for the Davey O'Brien Quarterback Award, and if the ballots were due tomorrow, I'd still vote Newton at the top. If you think what's been published over the last 24 hours is "period, end of story," you're thrusting your head into the sand. We're only on lap one, and this thing looks like it has some legs.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.