Auburn and South Carolina met last night in an SEC Championship game that was supposed to be one for the ages. Auburn came in undefeated at 12-0. Win number 13 would not only give them the conference crown, but also earn them a berth in the BCS National Championship Game on January 10. South Carolina, 9-3, had a chance to slay Goliath and in so doing, give legendary coach Steve Spurrier his 7th SEC championship, the previous 6 coming as head coach of the Florida Gators.
And then, of course, there was the story that everyone was still talking about—the pay-for-play controversy that had surrounded Auburn quarterback Cam Newton for the past several weeks—the one his own dad had engineered.
The sordid details have been widely documented, even here at Strollerderby. Cecil Newton, a pastor, attempted to solicit cash from Mississippi Sate during his son’s recruitment. Cecil was demanding anywhere between $100,000 to $180,000 in exchange for a commitment from his son to play football for the school.
But Mississippi State refuted Cecil’s overtures, and Cam eventually signed with Auburn. And his season started brilliantly. But a few weeks ago, word leaked about the NCAA’s investigation into the pay-for-play situation. At the center of it were three questions. Did Cam’s dad also request money from Auburn? If so, did Auburn pay for Cam’s services? And, finally, did Cam know about it? Even if he didn’t, it was widely believed that the Heisman Trophy candidate would lose his eligibility because of his father’s greed.
But as speculation swirled around him, Cam kept doing what he’d been doing all year—leading his team to victory with his brilliant play. Then, last week, with the scrutiny at it’s peak, Auburn was facing in-state rival Alabama on the road in a game known simply as the Iron Bowl. Auburn fell behind 24-0 in the first half and it finally looked as if the scandal would catch up with Newton and the Tigers.
But thanks to the biggest comeback in Iron Bowl history, it would do no such thing. Auburn outscored Alabama 28-3 the rest of the way and won the game by a single point. Through the haze of allegation, Auburn had reigned triumphant and was still alive in the hunt for the national title. With a win in the SEC Championship game, they would play for just that. But the question of Cam Newton’s eligibility still loomed ominously in the background.
However, this past week, the NCAA finally addressed the situation. According to its website: “The NCAA concluded on Monday that a violation of amateurism rules occurred…According to facts of the case agreed upon by Auburn University and the NCAA enforcement staff, 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.”
Yet, for Cam Newton and Auburn, this was not the fatal blow it initially seemed to be, as evidenced by the following quote issued Wednesday by 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.”
The website Fanhouse reported that SEC Commissioner Mike Slive had this to say in conjunction with the reinstatement:
“”The conduct of Cam Newton’s father… is unacceptable and has no place in the SEC or in intercollegiate athletics…The SEC had to determine whether it violated SEC bylaws for an individual’s family member to solicit funds from an institution that is different from the one he attended.”
Since it could not be proven that Cam Newton knew anything about his father’s unscrupulous dealings, Slive ruled that the SEC bylaws had not been violated.
Ultimately, both SEC and the NCAA deemed that Cam was good to go. And last night, he showed everyone that he’s more than good enough to go out and win an SEC championship. The highly anticipated game for the ages many anticipated turned into little more than a 3-1/2 hour advertisement for Newton’s Heisman candidacy. Not that he needed one. Now that he’s officially been ruled eligible, he’s virtually assured that honor.
Just in case, though, Newton threw for 4 touchdowns and a career high 335 yards and added another touchdown and 73 additional yards on the ground as Auburn humiliated South Carolina 56-17.
Newton’s mom appeared on camera several times throughout the televised game, wearing her son’s #2 jersey, cheering him on like a good mama should. His dad, however, was nowhere in sight. Which is probably best. As Cecil’s greed almost singlehandedly ruined it all.
Even as it is now, many are outraged that the quarterback has been officially cleared. Some remain skeptical that Cam knew nothing. Others feel that regardless of Cam’s involvement, serious enough NCAA infractions occurred to warrant his disqualification. His dad broke the rules. Of that there is literally no doubt. There’s also no doubt about this. Whatever else Newton and the Auburn Tigers go on to win this year—the Heisman Trophy or even the the national championship—thanks to Cecil Newton, many will put an asterisks next to those accomplishments.
I won’t, though. Because I was in the camp all along that believed Cam should be cleared if his involvement could not be proven. Why? Because I read and write far too many stories each week about parenting to not know one thing: kids with really bad parents inevitably pay a price. And when Cecil broke NCAA allegations in the most egregious manner by asking at least one of its institutions to pay cash in exchange for his son’s commitment, in my mind, he proved that he was just that—a bad parent.
After all, a good parent would have protected his son from bottom-feeding money grubbers trying to cash in on his God-gifted abilities. But Cecil couldn’t do that. Because he was the bottom-feeding money grubber.
And don’t you think a kid with a dad like that has been punished enough already?
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