NCAA Bungles Cam Newton Mess
But, you guessed it, the NCAA dropped the ball, issuing a ruling that levied a tremendous punishment on Newton -- he was ruled ineligible for a single day. A single day! Oh, the humanity! And his dad, you know the preacher who tried to sell his son, he doesn't have full access at Auburn anymore. They've limited his access to the program. Limited. His. Access. For a month. To a program that his son won't even be affiliated with come January 11th.
There have been joke penalties from the NCAA before, but this sets a new standard for wimpiness, the Emperor who wore no clothes meets the college enforcement body with no guts. As a result, now you can go on eBay and auction off your kid. Just, more winking and nodding, don't complete the transaction and actually take the money. Already, Internet pranksters have started listing players. Early Thursday morning this listing appeared: "Quarterback 6'6" 250 lb elusive *Great Liar*" (see screen-grab below)
The asking price? $180,000.
Wonder who that might be?
Welcome to the new era of NCAA athletics, where you'd be a fool not to ask for money. What's the harm? If a school follows the rules and declines to pay you, just move along to the next school and keep your hand out. Eventually someone will pony up. And, hey, if they don't? Big deal, just claim your son didn't know and he'll be eligible to play for any school in the country.
In fact, let me get this out there. I have two sons. They are presently 2 1/2 years old and two months old. I'm not sure what kind of athletes they will be -- although if they take after their father it's likely they will not break 5.0 in the 40-yard dash. Even still, there's a value in locking up commitments early. Ask Lane Kiffin. So I'm going to offer their rights to any school for $20,000. I'll steer them wherever they need to be steered. (Oh, and they can't read so they don't know about this solicitation). Think that's ridiculous? Well, based on the punishment the NCAA levied -- that is, none to speak of -- you ain't seen nothing yet. It's open season on player auctions.
Until Wednesday, everyone associated with college athletics assumed that even asking for money was a huge no-no. That's the expectation that had long governed these transactions. That's why these negotiations are always so hushed, so cloaked in secrecy. Because everyone assumed that asking for money was, you know, an NCAA violation. Otherwise, the only way to pay players would be for schools to turn over funds out of their own munificence. Which, given that the schools make money off the players hand over fist without feeling compelled to pay them anything, isn't going to happen.
So what do we learn from Cam Newton?
Solicit away, there's actually no punishment to be found. Here are seven other lessons from the NCAA's gutless ruling that has made every parent, handler or coach a wannabe World Wide Wes.
1. Newton is only eligible only because Cecil Newton was too greedy.
Think about this. If Cecil hadn't been so greedy as to ask for $180,000, he would have sold his son's eligibility. The reason he didn't? Nobody could put together that much money. If he'd only asked for, say, $5,000, Newton's eligibility would have been finished because someone could have gotten that amount of money together.
Incredibly, his father's greed saved Newton!
Keep in mind Georgia's A.J. Green was suspended four games for selling his own game-worn jersey for $1,000. Newton's father asked for 180 times that figure, but he asked for so much money no one could pay it. Back in January, Cecil Newton said he sent his son to Auburn instead of Mississippi State because, "I didn't want him (Cam) to be a rented mule."
If he'd been honest, Cecil Newton would have told the truth back in January. He didn't want Mississippi State to rent his son, he wanted them to buy him instead.
2. All the reporting was accurate.
No one has disproven a single fact reported by ESPN.com, the New York Times, or the ESPN television network. The only fact I can think of that hasn't been adequately analyzed is Joe Schad's report that Cam Newton called a Mississippi State recruiter and apologized for signing with Auburn. Did the NCAA discredit this report? Did they find that untrustworthy. Because that report goes directly to the heart of Newton's knowledge.
Otherwise, for all the tempest about the reporting, everything was accurate.
3. No one addressed whether Newton would have been eligible to play at Mississippi State.
If he had enrolled at Mississippi State without accepting money, would he have been eligible there? We don't know. The way the NCAA and SEC have distinguished this case and emphasized that the solicitation occurred at a different school than the one New attended makes it seem as though the answer is no.
And if Newton's not eligible to play at Mississippi State, then the NCAA and SEC have created a logical riddle -- acknowledging that you can be considered a pro at one school in the conference and an amateur at another school in that same conference in that same sport. What sense does that make? How is that even possible?
So when Auburn traveled to Mississippi State to begin the 2010 football season in the SEC, for purposes of Bulldog athletics State was lining up against a pro quarterback. But he was considered an amateur at Auburn. As one SEC athletic director told me, how can that possibly be permissible?
4. Tennessee's Bruce Pearl should have lied. And kept lying.
Consider, Pearl hosted juniors at his home for a barbecue and got his pay docked over a million dollars, lost off-campus recruiting privileges for he and his staff for a year and has been suspended from coaching for the first eight games of the SEC season. For hosting players at a barbecue and admitting lying about it. (Hosting the players would be permissible if they were seniors, but not as juniors). The admission of a lie leads to greater punishment, ironically, than simply lying.
Meanwhile Cecil Newton tried to sell his son for $180,000 and his son claims he didn't know. The NCAA can't prove that Newton did know
The result? A one-day ineligibility.
In the middle of the week, no less.
5. Keep in mind Cecil Newton told Sports Illustrated he chose the school for his son.
So why does his son's lack of knowledge matter anyway? The son wasn't even choosing the school. If Cam's not making the choice then aren't, as Pat Haden at USC argued, the parent and son considered the same actor here? The parent's knowledge directly impacts the selection. There's no cleansing here that takes place because the son makes a choice with a mind clear of untoward influences.
How do we know that Cecil made the decision? This Sports Illustrated article discusses Cecil's decision to send Cam to Auburn over Mississippi State: "Newton let his father make the final decision, and a few days before Christmas, while sitting at the dinner table in his brother's house in Jacksonville, Cecil Sr. uttered two words that would radically alter the college football landscape: 'It's Auburn."'
So Cecil made the college decision. Whether or not Cam knew anything doesn't matter, his dad did know everything, and the dad made all the decisions.
6. The NCAA blew it with this ruling.
Tough cases make bad law. And in this case the NCAA, while stating that a violation occurred, created a loophole that I'm not sure it can ever close. The NCAA had an opportunity to make an example of the best player in the biggest collegiate sport in America. To send a message to parents, associates, middle men and everyone else in the country who might be tempted to try and cash in on a college athlete that soliciting payment is fundamentally against NCAA rules.
Did the Newton family break the rules by soliciting money for payment?
Did that rule breaking require that Cam Newton be rendered ineligible?
For how long?
This punishment would be funny if it wasn't so pathetic.
And don't even get me started on how a player can be ineligible for one day in the middle of the week and not have his eligibility impacted retroactively. What suddenly happened on Tuesday that made him ineligible? Didn't that ineligibility issue actually occur way back before the season even began? So how does the punishment magically occur for one day in the middle of the week?
You thought the magic bullet was impressive in the JFK investigation? Meet the magic suspension.
7. The SEC's official statement on this penalty is laughable: "The actions taken by Auburn University and Mississippi State University make it clear this behavior will not be tolerated in the SEC."
What actions? Cecil Newton is on some sort of double-secret probation that no one even understands. Cam Newton missed a single day of practice.
Do these penalties make it clear that the SEC won't tolerate the behavior or, to the contrary, does the SEC response actually make it clear that this behavior will be tolerated by the SEC.
I think it's the latter.
Once the NCAA swung and missed on levying any punishment, the SEC had a chance to deliver a punishment that would have gone a long way toward ameliorating the SEC's national image as a league that plays loose with the rules. Holding Newton out of the SEC championship game would have been a statement of principle that accompanied the rhetoric, a ruling to hang the league's reputation on when others questioned whether championships mattered more than doing what was right.
Unfortunately, the SEC chose to let Newton and his family off with a mere verbal slapping. Auburn may still end up 0-14 since the NCAA investigation remains ongoing, but the three-way butterfly kisses between the NCAA, the SEC and Auburn make it increasingly unlikely that anyone is willing to actually punish the rule violators in this case.
Meaning all of college sports loses and all the people who the NCAA and the SEC have wanted to keep away from their athletes -- the greedy hangers-on, the agents, the family members who'd sell away their son's eligibility to the highest bidder -- are enabled by this ruling.
Grandma better grab the phone, Sonny-boy's about to get her paid.
Ain't college sports grand.
In the meantime, the bidding is still open on my sons' college choices. Do I hear $20,000? $25,000? I'll look forward to hearing from y'all. If you saw the way my son shimmies when the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse dance song comes on, you'd know he has a great future as a slot receiver.
Who knew that after all this, the most remarkable missed tackle of Newton's career wouldn't come on the field of play at all? The NCAA and the SEC both whiffed on the quarterback sack, grabbing nothing but open air.
Follow Clay Travis on Twitter here. With All That and a Bag of Mail back on a weekly basis, you can e-mail him questions at Clay.Travis@gmail.com.