Thursday, December 02, 2010

Cam Newton's Going to Play? Cam Newton's Going to Play!

This is what it's all about, folks!

Random thoughts on the NCAA ruling:

1. Though you wouldn't know it from the reaction of Auburn fans (or at least the Auburn fans with whom I work), yesterday was not a good day for Auburn. The NCAA has concluded that Cecil Newton attempted to sell his son to Mississippi State. That raises two possibilities for what actually happened in Newton's recruitment: (a) Cecil Newton was bluffing when he told Mississippi State that he had an offer on the table; or (b) the Reverend did have an offer from Auburn. Likewise, now that it's been established that Cecil Newton was looking for a payday when Cam was recruited and Cam ended up at Auburn after Cecil made the decision himself, we have a strong implication that Auburn paid for Newton. An implication isn't enough to declare a player ineligible, so the NCAA ruling is defensible, but if one were taking odds on whether Auburn paid for Newton, the favorite would be "they're cheatin' again."

2. The other negative for Auburn is that the stakes are just going to keep rising for them. If Newton would have been declared ineligible before the Georgia game, then it's quite possible (likely?) that Auburn would have lost to Georgia and Alabama and therefore would not have won their division. Now, Auburn has won the West and is favored to win the SEC Championship Game. If Auburn wins this weekend and it turns out that they paid for Newton, then they will have bought an SEC Championship. And then, you have the prospect that Auburn beats South Carolina and wins in Glendale. That would be the equivalent of the Tigers pushing all of their chips into the middle of the table. If that happens and then the NCAA (or, more likely, the FBI/IRS and then the NCAA) establish that Auburn boosters paid for Newton, then the blowback would be immense. At that stage, Auburn would have embarrassed the sport of college football by winning the national title on the back of a quarterback who was bought and paid for. As a neutral college football fan, the conclusion is that we would all feel a little more at ease if South Carolina won on Saturday.

3. All that said, the NCAA's ruling yesterday didn't offend my sense of propriety because I generally assume that players and their families will accept money if it's offered. That seems implicit to me in college football recruiting (with obvious exceptions). The bulwark against rampant cheating is not recruits and their families; it's the coaches and athletic departments that place their reputations on the line by offering money. The prospect of NCAA sanctions is the deterrent against schools paying for recruits. The prospect of becoming Todd Bozeman is the deterrent for a coach. All of the hyperventilating about families now having the ability to have their hands out seems excessive to me. If programs don't pay money for players, then it doesn't matter. Also, there is concern about a slippery slope with families asking for money all the time, but think about the alternative if the NCAA rules that asking for an improper benefit renders an athlete ineligible. Recruits and players are probably asking for small benefits all the time: tickets, meals, apparel, travel, etc. Most of the requests are probably entirely innocent. Do we really want every such request to put eligibility at risk?

4. The NCAA's ruling also makes sense in another respect: there are no damages. If this were a civil action, then Auburn's defense would be "no harm, no foul." Yes, Cecil Newton solicited money, but in the end, there is no evidence that money changed hands and that is the focus of these particular NCAA rules.

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