SEC Commissioner Mike Slive Speaks on Cam Newton Eligibility
Slive said that he received a final set of established facts in the Newton case on Monday of this week. It was only upon receiving these established facts -- those facts that were agreed to by both the NCAA and Auburn -- that Slive was able to determine whether Newton violated SEC bylaws as well. That decision ultimately came down to Slive's interpretation of SEC bylaw 14.01.3.2, a bylaw I analyzed two weeks ago for FanHouse. It reads:
"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."
As the individual given specific power in the bylaws to determine what these rules mean, Slive's decision on whether Newton or his family had received improper benefits boiled down to how he read the above section. Specifically, what did "receives or agrees to receive" mean in the context of a solicitation? In making his decision, Slive, a lawyer and former judge, considered the particular language of the bylaw within the context of three additional forms of authority:
1. The intent of the legislation.
"Based on my research the league's intent when it added this bylaw was to ensure that if an athlete participated in an NCAA investigation that he wasn't able to transfer to another institution within our own conference. Essentially to keep one institution from getting into trouble and then have an individual attend another school in the same conference," Slive said.
Slive continued, "You could read this bylaw expansively to conclude that an athlete is ineligible at all institutions for receiving a hamburger. I did not believe and do not believe that was the intent of the rule."
2. The history of the bylaw
"The league added that bylaw in 1985," Slive told me. "That's a long time ago and since that time it has never been applied by me as commissioner to rule someone ineligible and I don't believe any of my predecessors have ever applied it to make someone ineligible either. That was significant."
3. The uniqueness of this case.
"This was a case of first impression," Slive said. (A case of first impression has no existing precedent). "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. Ultimately," Slive said, "I had to determine what the appropriate league response was after balancing all of these factors and after considering all of that I did not believe that he had violated our bylaws."
As a result, Cam Newton, ruled ineligible Tuesday, is now eligible to play under NCAA rules. With a win in the SEC championship game an undefeated Auburn would advance to Glendale, Ariz., and play for the BCS title.
Asked if he was concerned that the NCAA's ruling and the SEC's acquiescence to that ruling without further punishment opened a large loophole in NCAA rules, Slive acknowledged that he was concerned by the precedent set in the Cam Newton case -- that family members may solicit benefits from one university while remaining eligible at another. As a result Slive said the SEC would sponsor and send legislation to the NCAA to close the Cam Newton loophole and prevent future instances such as this from occurring. "To the extent that the current legislation is not thorough enough, we are going to work to get national legislation passed to close this loophole," Slive said.
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