Let's get this out of the way early: Cam Newton is going to be ruled ineligible to play college football at some point. That ruling will mean that every game he participated would not count as an Auburn victory. This isn't a question of if, it's a question of when.
It might take 10 days, it might take two years, but the ineligibility ruling is coming. No reasonable person can believe that Cecil Newton Sr. didn't solicit funds from Mississippi State for his son to play football there. (Note, I'm not even considering whether Auburn paid anything for Cam's services. Even if the NCAA can never prove that -- which it may one day be able to prove as well -- there is no doubt that the Newton family's actions in relation to Cam's recruitment to Mississippi State are sufficient enough to rule him ineligible under NCAA rules).
In the meantime Auburn fans can continue to bury their heads in the sand and blame everyone but the Newton family for the plague of Biblical proportions that is about to rain down on their football program. No one else has any blame here. Not the media reports that have been accurate, not the rival school that turned you in for playing an ineligible player, not anyone else. You can blame shift all you want, but ultimately your rationales are going to fail.
That's the central takeaway from this column -- Newton's ineligibility -- but this story is so big and the tentacles are so far-reaching that it extends well beyond Cam Newton. That's why we're doing the unbelievable, eschewing all other football that took place on Saturday and devoting the entirety of the Starting 11 to the Newton imbroglio.
We're going to hit you upside the head with the most pertinent perspective that isn't anywhere else on the Internet, television or radio. Let's roll.
1. What is the relevant NCAA bylaw and what is Auburn's defense to these allegations going to be be?
The relevant NCAA bylaw governing a prospective athlete is as follows (quoting from the NCAA rulebook):
10.1 Unethical Conduct
Unethical conduct by a prospective or enrolled student-athlete or a current or former institutional staff member
(e.g., coach, professor, tutor, teaching assistant, student manager, student trainer) may include, but is not limited
to, the following:
(c) Knowing involvement in offering or providing a prospective or an enrolled student-athlete an improper inducement
or extra benefit or improper financial aid;
Violations of 10.1 are enforced as follows:
10.4 Disciplinary Action
Prospective or enrolled student-athletes found in violation of the provisions of this regulation shall be ineligible
for further intercollegiate competition, subject to appeal to the Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement for
restoration of eligibility.
This catch-all provision on ethical conduct will be read in concert with NCAA sections 13.01.01 -- eligibility effects of a recruiting violation -- and section 16 which focuses on extra benefits obtained by student athletes. It's also important to note that the NCAA bylaws are written primarily as a guide for the member institutions, not as a series of prohibitions directed at athletes. That's why the unethical conduct provision is likely to be construed broadly.
Auburn's defense to a prospective athlete receiving an improper benefit will be composed of three parts: a. that Cam Newton didn't know his father solicited funds -- the most crucial part b. Newton didn't attend the school his father solicited funds from and c. no funds ever changed hands for Newton to attend school at Auburn.
It's not a bad defense given how woeful Auburn's options are, but it's a desperate one that is doomed to fail. Why? Because if accepted, the defense violates the very intent of all NCAA rules and opens up a hole in the rulebook that you could drive a Brink's truck full of cash through. If the NCAA accepts this defense to its bylaws, it would mean that any recruit's family was free to shake down the schools that were recruiting him so long as the family claimed the recruit was unaware of it and the player didn't end up attending the school.
Think about how ridiculous this would be.
Grandmothers across the country could call up head coaches, demand hundreds of thousands of dollars from those coaches, and then there would be two options for the coach: a. the money comes, the solicitation works and everyone tries to keep quiet once the player arrives on campus or b. the money doesn't come and the player remains free to play somewhere else. Whereupon the grandmother calls a new school and repeats the solicitation.
Plainly, this argument is going to fail.
After all, the single most sacrosanct rule in the NCAA rulebook is that amateurs cannot be paid to play the sport that their scholarship covers. Auburn's defense will be that asking another institution to be paid isn't a violation of rules if the recruit doesn't know about it and doesn't attend the school that was asked to pay him.
You thought the NCAA rulebook was confusing now? Imagine what happens if you allow every family in the nation to demand cash payments free from penalty.
Think the NCAA isn't already aware of this issue? Wrong. The NCAA recently told multiple media outlets "the solicitation of cash or benefits by a prospective student-athlete or another individual on his or her behalf is not allowed under NCAA rules."
As legal defenses go, Auburn's isn't even a Hail Mary, it's an onside kick with 10 seconds left down four touchdowns.
2. Is Auburn behaving appropriately by allowing Cam Newton to continue to play?
Probably not, but the school is already screwed anyway. Pursuant to the NCAA rulebook, what Auburn should do is rule Newton ineligible and then seek to have his eligibility restored via appeal. But that isn't going to be effective given the time constraints and the amount of money at issue.
So, Auburn has decided to kick the rulebook to the curb for the moment and let the Auburn fans go all Barry Bonds on us and root for someone who is clearly violating the rules of the sport instead of pulling him out of the games now and invalidating the entirety of the season before its complete.
Make no mistake about it, Auburn has two options: a. allow its fans to cheer for a team that isn't going to win anything once all is said and done or b. pull Newton and let the fans know that they are screwed both immediately and in the future.
Now, when the NCAA ultimately rules Newton Ineligible, the question will be whether Auburn's punishment will be more severe than it otherwise would have been for continuing to play him. And the answer to that question will depend on whether Auburn's legal defense team can make its defense look worthy of legitimacy. In other words, can it dress up this legal argument enough to make it look like the school could have legitimately believed that Newton was still eligible?
The only winners here are the lawyers, because you know they're getting paid. And paid really well.
3. Tony Dorsett called this a "modern day lynching." Is he correct?
Only if Tony Dorsett has never read a history book and thinks the word "lynching" means investigating whether someone is eligible to play football. Honestly, this allegation is more offensive to me than Reggie Bush or Newton taking improper benefits to play. Why? Because it completely devalues the historical wrongs perpetrated against the men and women who died so that one day Dorsett could have the right to be so ignorant of history.
Let me ask you this question: if the exact allegations are made about Tim Tebow and his family last year when Tebow is in the midst of a national championship run as the quarterback of an undefeated SEC team, is the media treatment any different? Hell no. In fact, this would be an even bigger story because Tebow is a much bigger celebrity than Newton.
The point is, race has nothing to do with this story. Injecting race into the story just makes Dorsett look stupid. Which, to be fair, probably isn't that difficult to do.
4. You hate Auburn, Clay!
Wrong, I love Auburn. It's a great school, an amazing place to watch a football game, and I've loved every experience I've ever had on the Plains. Loved them. What's more, I want Auburn to win the SEC and go 13-0 because I'm a southern boy who hates the cold. I want to be out in Arizona in January where it's warm, covering the BCS Championship Game. I want y'all to be the fourth SEC school in five years to win a title. So I can wave the SEC banner even wilder, continue to make my arguments that the SEC has become a de facto minor league to the NFL. Prove, once more, that ManifSECt destiny is a way of college football life.
But I want the title to count more than I want any of these things.
And if y'all go 14-0 eventually, your title isn't going to count. Which means we'll have played the entire season for nothing.
5. You hate Cam Newton, Clay!
I love Cam Newton.
In fact, I was the first person in the nation to say Newton was going to win the Heisman Trophy. Everyone laughed at my prediction in September when I wrote this. Since then, I've been the head national cheerleader in the Cam Newton parade. There is no doubt that Newton has been the best football player in the nation this year. None. In fact, watching the plays that he and Gus Malzahn have dialed up together has been the most fun there is in college football this season.
Early in these reports, I thought Newton was being attacked unfairly and said so. In particular, the story about why he left Florida did nothing but assassinate his character. It wasn't germane to the central issue -- whether Newton was eligible -- and I said so. In fact, I didn't make up my mind about this situation until last Friday after I'd had a week to dissect the reports.
Now I don't think a reasonable person can dispute that Cecil Newton tried to sell Newton's football services. Once you look at the relevant rules in the NCAA handbook Newton's ineligible this season.
6. Cam Newton is, however, neither guilty nor innocent.
Those are terms reserved for criminal trial defendants. Right now Newton is something entirely different -- either eligible or ineligible. So please stop with all the Duke lacrosse e-mails about how people are innocent until proven guilty. These situations have nothing in common. Zero. The Duke lacrosse players faced years behind bars and were charged with a serious crime. Right now, all Newton faces is ineligibility in football. Let's be clear about this, there is nothing illegal, yet, about these Newton accusations.
What's more, saying that we need to reserve judgment until the "facts" are in -- as SEC commissioner Mike Slive did on Friday -- isn't fair because college football judgment is based upon our perceptions of the relative strength of teams. College football isn't a sport that's judged on "facts," it's a sport judged on our perceptions. Would Slive say it's unfair, for example, not to elect someone to the Senate if they faced a serious ethical charge during the campaign? Probably not, right, you should allow that to influence your opinion.
If my perception is, rightly, that Newton and Auburn aren't going to be able to keep any titles or awards they win this season, why is it then inappropriate to react based upon that perception? After all, every bit of the college football season is based upon perception. There's no playoff to determine which are the best teams, we have to come to a conclusion based upon what we see.
If anything, not reacting to these allegations is the irresponsible thing to do. That requires us to ignore what we clearly see before us -- that Newton and Auburn are in a world of trouble. Why is pretending that nothing is the matter better than considering that something is the matter?
You have to make a judgment in this situation. Either you believe Newton and Auburn are completely in the clear and you can support their title run or you believe that they aren't and you can't. Failing to make any decision at all isn't noble, it's the height of stupidity.
7. What's the SEC's role in this mess?
One of the many reasons I think the conspiracy talk against Auburn is so ridiculous is because the biggest entities in college football actually have their interests aligned with Auburn. That is, if there's any conspiracy at all, it's actually a conspiracy in favor of Auburn. Now that Auburn has won the SEC West, the worst thing that can happen for the SEC is Auburn rules Newton out before the SEC title game.
Because then the SEC would have to scramble. Would the league allow a team to represent the SEC West when that team isn't going to retain its SEC title should it win? Would the league allow the second-place team in the West to advance to Atlanta in its place? Does the league have the power to make that move?
Do you see how difficult these questions are to answer? Especially when there is no precedent for our present situation.
The SEC needs Newton to be eligible until well after the season is over. It solves an awful lot of troubles for the league.
8. What's the BCS' role in this mess?
If Auburn goes 13-0, the BCS also needs Newton eligible through the end of the season. Why? Because once the BCS title game matchup is set on Dec. 5, the worst thing that can happen to the BCS is that Newton is declared ineligible before the Jan. 10 title game. Because then you end up with two undefeated teams, Boise State and TCU, jumping around outside arguing that they should have been in that game.
One of the ironies of the present situation is that a 13-0 Auburn team is going to do to someone else what happened to a 12-0 Auburn team in 2004 -- steal the place of a team that really belongs there.
Indeed, it's very possible that you could end up with a split national championship if Oregon played Auburn without Newton.
(Note: Alabama beating Auburn in the Iron Bowl would be the best outcome of all for the BCS because it would knock Auburn out of the title game. You can bet that the BCS grand pooh-bahs will be rooting for this outcome).
9. Why is the NCAA so slow to investigate?
The NCAA is so slow because I don't believe the member institutions want the NCAA to be fast. They want the NCAA to be slow so we don't end up with stories like this one very often -- an athlete's eligibility becoming a national story amidst his team's championship run.
The NCAA would rather the entire season have passed before it levied any punishment. But that wasn't fast enough for Mississippi State. So now we have the media conducting its own public investigation at the same time that the NCAA conducts its own private one. Which is a complete mess and makes this situation so extraordinary.
10. Does Newton owe the scrutiny of his past to his unparalleled success on the field?
Yes, there's no doubt about it. And this is another area where I have great sympathy for Auburn fans. You're correct in that the reason everyone cares so much about Newton's eligibility is because he's so damn good. Put it this way, is Newton a major story if he's the backup quarterback at Auburn? Nope. Even if Newton's the starting quarterback and Auburn is 7-4 instead of 11-0, does Mississippi State publicly leak this information? Probably not.
The reality is there are a lot of Newtons playing college football right now -- players who have been paid or whose representatives requested that they be paid -- but they aren't as good as Newton. So we don't hear about them.
This season, Newton is the best player in college football and that means he's also the most scrutinized. Unfortunately for Newton, his family couldn't withstand that scrutiny.
11. Do you blame the Newton family if allegations of soliciting cash prove true?
Here's the rub: no, I really don't. As I've written and said a thousand times, my position is simple. If you're 18 years old, you should be able to make a living pursuing your chosen talent. The only people who can't in the entire United States are college football and basketball players. For some reason, we require that they serve an apprenticeship at college that makes universities a ton of money.
Again, we don't demand that Taylor Swift sing in the Vanderbilt chorus. Nope, we let her go pro.
Now, and here is where Mr. Dorsett and I might actually have an agreement, if Dorsett had said that the reason college basketball and college football players have no power relative to other athletes is because those sports are played predominantly by minorities, well, I think he'd have a strong case there.
Is it coincidental that majority white college sports like hockey, baseball, swimming, golf and tennis allow their 18-year-olds -- or younger -- to immediately go pro?
But I don't buy it.
I think the Newton family, already having experienced big-time college football at Florida, thought it wasn't fair that those universities made as much money as they did off their son while they got nothing at all.
And they allegedly sought to remedy that structural wrong. Unfortunately for them, that 's a violation of the NCAA bylaws and renders an athlete ineligible from the moment they undertook their act.
That's why when all is said and done, I'm convinced Newton will be ruled ineligible.
And Auburn might become the first team in college football history to go from 14-0 to 0-14 in one fell swoop.
Follow Clay Travis on Twitter here. With All That and a Bag of Mail returning for the football season, you can e-mail him questions at Clay.Travis@gmail.com.