December 01, 2010
Auburn fans, rejoice! After a month of speculation and fear, your knight in shining armor is emerging from the smoke with nary a scratch and the official endorsement of the only jury that matters – the NCAA (emphasis added):
Auburn University football student-athlete Cam Newton is immediately eligible to compete, according to a decision today by the NCAA student-athlete reinstatement staff. The NCAA concluded on Monday that a violation of amateurism rules occurred, therefore Auburn University declared the student-athlete ineligible yesterday for violations of NCAA amateurism rules.
When a school discovers an NCAA rules violation has occurred, it must declare the student-athlete ineligible and may request the student-athlete's eligibility be reinstated. Reinstatement decisions are made by the NCAA national office staff and can include conditions such as withholding from competition and repayment of extra benefits. Newton was reinstated without any conditions. [...]
"Our members have established rules for a fair and equal recruitment of student-athletes, as well as to promote integrity in the recruiting process,” said Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president for academic and membership affairs. "In determining how a violation impacts a student-athlete's eligibility, we must consider the young person's responsibility. Based on the information available to the reinstatement staff at this time, we do not have sufficient evidence that Cam Newton or anyone from Auburn was aware of this activity, which led to his reinstatement. From a student-athlete reinstatement perspective, Auburn University met its obligation under NCAA bylaw 14.11.1. Under this threshold, the student-athlete has not participated while ineligible."
There you have it: Cam Newton was declared ineligible for a few hours Tuesday while Auburn's compliance staff finished off some paperwork, then was immediately reinstated. He is going to play in Saturday's SEC Championship Game, accept the Heisman Trophy a week later and play in a BCS bowl game with the NCAA's official seal of approval.
Now the bizarre part: The NCAA did determine that the pay-for-play allegations against Newton's father, Cecil, are accurate and amount to a violation of Association bylaws. Its investigation found that "the student-athlete’s father and an owner of a scouting service worked together to actively market the student-athlete as a part of a pay-for-play scenario in return for Newton’s commitment to attend college and play football." This is exactly the story that emerged in the press last month.
As a result, Auburn has "limited the access" of Cecil Newton to the program, and Mississippi State has formally "disassociated" ex-Bulldog Kenny Rogers, the alleged (and confessed) middleman in the elder Newton's attempt to solicit a low six-figure cash payment from Mississippi State during his son's recruitment out of junior college last year. The investigation into all relevant parties and schools remains ongoing, per the NCAA's release: "Reinstatement decisions are independent of the NCAA enforcement process and typically are made once the facts of the student-athlete’s involvement are determined. The reinstatement process is likely to conclude prior to the close of an investigation." (Emphasis added.) There is more to come.
What the NCAA apparently did not find, though, is that Cam Newton actually accepted any improper benefits or, as far as it can uncover, had any knowledge of his father's scheme. Neither, apparently, did Auburn. If evidence to the contrary ever emerges, the story may be rewritten yet again.
But for the next two weeks, the NCAA seal of approval is everything: If Auburn beats South Carolina Saturday, voters can send the Tigers on to Glendale, Ariz., for the BCS title game and Newton on to accept the Heisman in New York City with a relatively clear conscience, no longer burdened by the crippling question marks that threatened to sully whatever pieces of hardware found their way into the school's trophy case by its star quarterback's hand. Chalk it up as yet another amazing comeback against the odds, until further notice.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.