Why it's nervous time for Auburn

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

NCAA rules prohibit a player, a player's family or any representative of a player from soliciting extra benefits from colleges. Not just receiving extra benefits, but merely asking for them.

The rule isn't completely black and white – the level of punishment can vary, for instance. Its significance in the case of Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton became undeniable Thursday when Ian Fitzsimmons of ESPN Radio Dallas interviewed recruiting middleman Kenny Rogers, a central figure in the Newton controversy.

That interview is why I think these are now nervous times at Auburn University, where a dream season, a likely Heisman Trophy and BCS title hopes all now hinge on whether Rogers is telling the truth or not in an allegation that shouldn't be too difficult to confirm.

The Cam Newton story has included a number of major tangents that, while interesting, have no bearing on the simple question – will he remain eligible to play for Auburn.

In that case, the important points are simple. Did he or his family break an NCAA rule? Kenny Rogers said they did. He then offered the NCAA a roadmap to prove it, which when you break it down as calmly as possible, doesn't seem to bode well for the Tigers.

Rogers, in his lengthy radio interview that featured his attorney on the line, said Cecil Newton had told him that there was a price tag on signing Cam out of Blinn (Texas) Junior College – "between $100,000 and $180,000."

More importantly, Rogers described a meeting between himself, Cecil Newton and two Mississippi State coaches his lawyer didn't allow to be named.

"What I can say on Nov. 27, (2009), me, Mr. (Cecil) Newton and two (Mississippi State) coaches were sitting at the Hilton Garden Inn in Starkville," said Rogers, who runs a recruiting service out of Atlanta. "And I can't really can't (sic) remember how Mr. Newton stated this, but however he said it, one of the coaches was like, 'No, no, I don't want to hear that. No, no, don't hear that' as if money was brought up or it was going to take money to get him."

This allegation lacks detail, like a precise quote. Did Cecil Newton ask for money or didn't he?

It also has some specifics though, which makes its verification fairly simple for the NCAA, which is currently investigating Cam Newton.

If Rogers is lying completely, it would be easy for Cecil Newton to prove he wasn't at the Hilton Garden Inn in Starkville, Miss. last Nov. 27. And it would be just as easy for the Bulldogs coaching staff to prove two of their guys weren't there.

Here's guessing the meeting happened.

College coaches are obligated to speak to NCAA investigators. Lying often results in the loss of their job. Since there was nothing illegal about the meeting and it shouldn't take more than five minutes to figure out which two coaches were there, it stands to reason those two coaches will tell the truth to the NCAA.

If they back up the general point of Rogers' story – that one of them reacted with a "no, no, I don't want to hear that" when money came up – then Cam Newton's eligibility is jeopardy. If they provide additional specifics, like what Cecil Newton really asked for (if anything) then Auburn has an even bigger problem.

Or they could say they have no recollection of the money request and destroy Rogers' credibility.

It could be as simple as that, the whole case (or this part of it) resting on their testimony. In essence, the Mississippi State coaches hold Auburn's season and Cam Newton's eligibility in their hands.

What those coaches say will likely be taken as the determining factor. No one has to believe Kenny Rogers. While it may be distasteful for Auburn fans to know a coach of a rival team has that power, these are the most credible witnesses available. They are members of the NCAA itself.

There's more to this case, of course. Rogers is a former recruiter for NFL agent Ian Greengross, which potentially opens up another can of worms. Another MSU booster, Bill Bell, told ESPN that Cecil Newton asked for money and that Bell had met with a NCAA investigator this week. (Bell speaking to a recruit's father may be an issue for Mississippi State). And another character in this drama, former MSU quarterback John Bond, is scheduled to meet with the FBI on Friday.

About the authors

Book cover
Book cover

Dan Wetzel and Jeff Passan write for Yahoo! Sports, the most-read sports site on the Web. Josh Peter, a former Yahoo! Sports reporter, is a freelance writer. Wetzel has coauthored four books, including the New York Times bestseller “Resilience: Faith, Focus, Triumph” with Alonzo Mourning, and lives in Michigan. Peter is an award-winning investigative journalist who has earned national attention for his reporting on the Bowl Championship Series. In 2005, he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for a series on race and high school football in the South. He lives in Los Angeles. Passan has won multiple Associated Press Sports Editors awards and lives in Kansas.

Buy at Amazon

Then there is ESPN which Wednesday reported that according to one Mississippi State "recruiter," Cecil Newton said it would take "more than a scholarship" for Cam to play in Starkville. Another "recruiter" shared that Cam had said he wanted to play for the Bulldogs but Cecil had forced him to Auburn because "the money was too much."

What exactly constitutes a "recruiter" is the question. Officially, only the coaching staff can recruit, which means ESPN's sources may be easy to figure out. All the NCAA has to do is ask who was involved in the Newton recruitment – likely the head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. If Bulldog coaches back up those stories, that could be trouble for Auburn.

However, Wednesday the SEC noted that when Mississippi State had reported concerns over the Newton recruitment last January and then July, those specific conversations and allegations were not included. If not, why?

Maybe the ESPN sources aren't members of the coaching staff. If it's a booster used as a "recruiter" then that would be a problematic for the Bulldogs – boosters can't even talk to recruits. It could be a student "recruiter," either a player or one of the famed SEC hostesses, but would one of them have money conversations with Cam Newton's dad?

Either way, that ESPN report has to raise concerns for Auburn. There are at least two people involved in the Mississippi State program who back up the general story that Kenny Rogers is telling – Cecil Newton was shopping his son. If anyone has any kind of documentation – text messages, emails, voice mails, etc. – then this becomes devastating.

The hope for Auburn fans is that this angle has already been pursued by the NCAA and they found nothing, not even an offer. One thing Auburn has been adamant about is backing the eligibility of Newton, although, at this point, what else are they going to do?

Other than that, there isn't much. Auburn better hope Kenny Rogers woke up Thursday, decided to call into a Dallas radio station and, with his attorney hovering over his every word, make up a wild story about Cecil Newton and his son.

Possible? Sure. Probable? Less sure.

Nervous on the Plains? How can't they be?

What to Read Next