The Southeastern Conference bylaws offer specific language that could render Auburn quarterback Cam Newton ineligible to play any sport at all league institutions. That's what careful study of the Ethical Conduct provision of the SEC bylaws has revealed to FanHouse. In particular, Section 14.01.3.2 dealing with Financial Aid states (bold added for emphasis):
"If at any time before or after matriculation in a member institution a student-athlete or any member of his/her family receives or agrees to receive, directly or indirectly, any aid or assistance beyond or in addition to that permitted by the Bylaws of this Conference (except such aid or assistance as such student-athlete may receive from those persons on whom the student is naturally or legally dependent for support), such student- athlete shall be ineligible for competition in any intercollegiate sport within the Conference for the remainder of his/her college career."
It has been alleged that Cecil Newton, who is Cam Newton's father, solicited payment for his son to attend Mississippi State. If this is true, a clear reading of this SEC bylaw would suggest that in making this demand "a student-athlete or any member of his/her family ... agrees to receive, directly or directly," an improper benefit that could rule him ineligible not just at the school in question but at all schools in the conference in every sport. A solicitation is a request or encouragement of another to perform an act. If Cecil Newton solicited Mississippi State then he agreed to receive the improper benefits by nature of the solicitation.
The SEC bylaws also contain a separate provision in section 14.01.3.1 with a catchall provision that would make any athlete ineligible at all SEC schools when that athlete "engages in unethical conduct."
Who makes the determination of whether an ethical violation has occurred under this bylaw? Pursuant to SEC bylaw 126.96.36.199: "The Commissioner is the official interpreter of NCAA and SEC rules and regulations." So whatever commissioner Mike Slive determines in this regard would govern.
What's more, Slive's authority to make a determination on Newton's eligibility is even more expansive pursuant to Section 4.4.2 (b) of the conference bylaws:
"The Commissioner shall have jurisdiction on all questions of student eligibility for intercollegiate athletic competition and may appoint an advisory committee on eligibility and infractions and base actions on consultations with this committee;"
Amazingly, the SEC commissioner's power does not end with these provisions. The commissioner is also charged with specific powers of investigation on behalf of the league that could also directly impact Newton's eligibility:
Section 188.8.131.52 states:
"The Commissioner has the duty and power to investigate the validity of violations and impose penalties and sanctions against member institutions, their athletic staff members or student-athletes, for practices and conduct which violate the spirit, as well as the letter of NCAA and SEC rules and regulations. This shall include the ability to render prospective student-athletes or current student-athletes ineligible for competition due to their involvement in a violation of NCAA or SEC rules that occurs during the individual's recruitment. The Commissioner also has the authority to suspend institutional staff members from participation in recruiting activities or participation in practice and/or competition due to their involvement in violations of NCAA or SEC rules."These provisions in the SEC bylaws are a potentially blockbuster revelation in the ongoing imbroglio surrounding Newton. Much of the reporting thus far has focused only on the NCAA regulations and how those impact Newton's eligibility. No attention has thus far focused on the fact that Slive has the individual authority to determine that Newton is ineligible to participate in SEC competition. It's not enough for an SEC athlete to fulfill NCAA bylaws, he must also comply with all SEC bylaws in order to be eligible.
Indeed, Slive's powers in the Newton investigation, read in concert with the NCAA's own provisions, are much more expansive than the NCAA's. In particular, much of the media attention thus far has focused on whether Cam Newton knew that his father solicited Mississippi State for payment (if those allegations prove true). That focus on Cam's knowledge is based upon a reading of the NCAA's own bylaws.
But the SEC's bylaw has no knowledge requirement. What's more the SEC's ethics provision specifically includes family members within its scope and doesn't limit the infraction to any individual school. The commissioner's finding of a violation of Section 14.01.3.2 would render Newton ineligible at all SEC institutions, not just the school that was solicited.
While the NCAA has opined, "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" specific bylaw authority is scant. Not so for the SEC. Slive has explicit authority to rule Newton ineligible. Despite the scope of the SEC's power in this matter, thus far Slive has not acknowledged the powers the league bylaws give him. Indeed, in an interview with the Birmingham News last Friday, Slive downplayed the conference's own role in the Newton investigation:
"First of all," Slive told the newspaper, "we don't have an established set of facts. The only people who can answer that is the NCAA. They have rules and then they have interpretations. Personally, I don't know how the rule applies and what the interpretations might be."
Slive said until there are established facts "you could have four or five hypotheses. We're not in that role. I think our role is to wait out the investigation."
Wait out the investigation even when the commissioner is given the specific authority to act in situations such as these? Evidently. Wait on the NCAA even when the league's bylaws convey more explicit authority than the NCAA's bylaws? Evidently, again. And wait even as Auburn may win an SEC title that it is potentially ineligible to compete for under the SEC's own bylaws? Evidently, a third time.
FanHouse's request for SEC comment on the quoted provisions of the bylaws included in this story was not immediately returned. When, or if, the league comments, we will update the story.
Until then, the Cam Newton saga continues.
And the SEC is an even bigger player in that drama than anyone had heretofore imagined.
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.