The college football career of Cameron Newton will not have a happy ending. That’s not fact, merely opinion. But what is fact is that there are some pretty serious allegations - at least in terms of NCAA violations - against the Auburn quarterback and those who represent him. What’s also fact is that when the NCAA finds violations, and rules that a player should not have been allowed on the field, it erases things like victories and championships, which won’t be good for Newton and the Tigers, who are 10-0 and positioned to play for the national championship.
The college football career of Cameron Newton will not have a happy ending.
That’s not fact, merely opinion.
But what is fact is that there are some pretty serious allegations - at least in terms of NCAA violations - against the Auburn quarterback and those who represent him. What’s also fact is that when the NCAA finds violations, and rules that a player should not have been allowed on the field, it erases things like victories and championships, which won’t be good for Newton and the Tigers, who are 10-0 and positioned to play for the national championship.
And more and more, as people go on the record about Newton’s recruitment out of Blinn Junior College, it appears it will ultimately be ruled that Newton should not have been eligible to play this season. It also now appears that Auburn is acting recklessly by allowing Newton to continue to play when standard procedure is to sit a player currently under investigation.
All this began less than two weeks ago.
It started with the claim by ex-Mississippi State quarterback John Bond that another former player, Kenny Rogers, acting on Newton’s behalf, sought more than $100,000 for Newton to come to Starkville. It continued with Rogers admitting last Thursday to making the request of Mississippi State and talking about specific conversations he had with Newton’s father, Cecil, who was apparently the one orchestrating his son’s recruitment.
It was also reported by ESPN that Newton ultimately went to Auburn because “the money was too much.”
Now it’s come to light that both Cam and Cecil Newton met with the NCAA prior to Auburn’s game with Georgia and that Cecil Newton admitted to the pay-for-play scheme but said Cam Newton had no knowledge of it. On Tuesday, the FBI met with Bond regarding Newton’s recruitment. And on Wednesday, a Mississippi State booster told ESPN he’d received a payment plan from Rogers and Cecil Newton designed to get Cam Newton to sign with the Bulldogs.
The NCAA’s position is clear: “Solicitation of cash or benefits by a prospective student-athlete or another individual on his or her behalf is not allowed under NCAA rules.”
It’s all too reminiscent of Reggie Bush, and a reminder of Chris Webber.
Given that Bush played at USC just five years ago, it’s easy to close your eyes and see him darting all over the L.A. Coliseum turf, making magical plays as the Trojans marched through the regular season undefeated before losing the national championship game to Texas in the Rose Bowl. There was that unforgettable game against Fresno State when he accounted for 513 yards from scrimmage - 294 rushing, 68 receiving and 151 in returns - which is a Pac-10 record.
There was the Heisman Trophy in December of 2005.
Of course it’s all now gone. After a lengthy NCAA investigation, it was determined Bush and his family accepted gifts amounting to close to $300,000 while he was still at USC. The school was stripped of 14 victories spanning the 2004 and 2005 seasons, meaning the Trojans’ official record five years ago is 0-13, not 12-1.
Bush’s presence has been erased from the USC halls, mementos from his time at the school removed. His Heisman has been returned.
Webber’s tale is a similar one, but more faded in memory. He was the centerpiece of Michigan’s Fab Five, the five precocious freshman who arrived in Ann Arbor in the fall of 1991 and led the Wolverines’ basketball team to back-to-back appearances in the NCAAA title game, and because he took money from Michigan booster Ed Martin beginning when Webber was in eighth grade, Michigan forfeited its 1992 Final Four win over Cincinnati as well as its runner-up status that year, and forfeited the entire 1992-93 season.
Webber’s records have also been deleted from Michigan’s record books.
Assuming there’s truth to the rumors surrounding the solicitation of money on Cam Newton’s behalf, whether he knew about it or it was all orchestrated by his father, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if Auburn’s 2010 season wound up like USC’s in 2005 or the Michigan basketball team’s in 1992-93.
To date, the allegations have surrounded Newton’s recruitment by Mississippi State. And given that Mississippi State apparently refused not pay the Newtons, and reported the solicitation of money by Newton’s camp to the SEC, the school seems free from potential penalties.
Meanwhile, other than that one unsubstantiated claim that Newton said the money at Auburn was too good to pass up, there haven’t been allegations leveled against the school. It’s possible - possible, not necessarily probable - that the Tigers are clean.
That leaves the Tigers coaches and administrators in the spot of unknowingly playing a player who might eventually be ruled ineligible for nine games, then having to decide whether to continue to play that player now that allegations have come to light.
They allowed him to play against Georgia, taking the chance Newton and the school will be exonerated. Perhaps they felt that even if Auburn does get nailed, or it’s determined that Newton was every bit as involved in the solicitation of money as his father, chances are the NCAA won’t make any ruling for quite a while, so at least the Tigers will get to enjoy the moment before the hammer comes down.
No matter how it plays out, or how it affects Auburn, the saga is ugly.
This magical season for the Tigers, one that seems destined to wind up with a berth in the BCS Championship Game against Oregon, now has a midnight black cloud hanging over its head.
So does Newton’s run toward the Heisman.
The college football career of Cameron Newton appears it will not have a happy ending.
What We Learned
No team was rendered irrelevant on the national scene faster, or more stunningly, than Virginia Tech.
The Hokies did what they typically do. They bravely scheduled a big-time opponent the first week or two of the season, but lost that game. There was LSU in 2007, Alabama in 2009 and Boise State on Labor Day this year - and though East Carolina isn’t a big-time opponent, Virginia Tech threw in a 2008 loss to the Pirates for good measure.
But the Hokies didn’t merely lose to Boise State this year. They followed that up by falling to James Madison.
Their national championship hopes were eviscerated. And so was any reason to pay them any mind.
Things have changed, however. Since that loss to the Dukes, Virginia Tech has quietly gone about the task of rebuilding its season. There have been eight straight wins - now the longest winning streak by any team not named Oregon, Auburn, Boise State or TCU - and an unbeaten record in the ACC.
Virginia Tech plays at Miami this weekend and hosts Virginia in the regular-season finale, and with the Hurricanes still not showing they’re close to reclaiming their spot as a national power and the Cavaliers barely mediocre, it’s not unreasonable to think the Hokies will finish the regular season with 10 straight wins.
Should the Hokies beat Miami, they would clinch a berth in the ACC Championship Game and play for the conference’s automatic berth in the Orange Bowl.
“I don't think the mood ever changed,” Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said of the two losses to start the season. “I don’t think you can come back from two tough losses in not even a week - you know we played on Monday and then we played on Saturday, and had two tough losses - I don’t think you come back from that unless you’ve got really good kids, and we have really good character kids.”
Virginia Tech’s recovery started with a shaky 49-27 win over East Carolina in a game they trailed by 10 points in the first half. But then came a 19-0 road whipping of Boston College, and since then the Hokies have shown an explosive offense and solid - though not spectacular - defense. Most recently there were wins over two of their three main competitors in the ACC’s Coastal Division - Georgia Tech and then North Carolina. The third of those three competitors, of course, is Miami.
Left for dead after two weeks, rendered irrelevant after its loss to James Madison - forgotten - Virginia Tech is proving to be the team it seemed to be in the preseason, when it was ranked in the top-10 in both major polls.
There won’t be a national championship for the Hokies, but there might just be another Orange Bowl.
Game of the Week
It used to be that the Saturday before Thanksgiving was the one with all the great rivalries. If you’re a fan of the Ivy League, it still is, but for most FBS teams the rivalries have been pushed back over time - Stanford-Cal is an exception - until next weekend. It’s also a Saturday that usually has huge national championship implications, but Oregon, Auburn and TCU are all idle.
That leaves a weekend games with conference implications as the important ones.
The Pac-10 is essentially settled, with Oregon a game ahead of Stanford and holding the tiebreaker. The SEC is similarly settled with Auburn and South Carolina the winners of the conference’s two divisions. The Big East ... well, this year the Big East is just boring.
But there are major matchups in the ACC, Big Ten and Big 12.
Starting in the ACC, there’s that game between Virginia Tech and Miami that could decide the Coastal Division.
If the Hokies win, they’re into the ACC Championship Game for the fourth time in six years. If the Hurricanes win, however, the teams will each have six conference victories. Miami, which has two conferences losses, would still need the Hokies to lose to Virginia next week, but at least it would keep the race alive for one more week. Meanwhile, in the Atlantic Division, Florida State is at Maryland with the opportunity to sew up its first berth in the conference championship game since 2005. A loss, however, and Maryland would get the division title with a win over North Carolina State next week.
Should the Hokies and Seminoles each win, while the records of the teams won't be spectacular - 9-2 for Virginia Tech and 8-3 for the Seminoles - a title game between the two schools would have the most sex appeal of any ACC Championship since the inaugural affair, pitting those same two schools, in 2005.
The intrigue in the Big 12 lies in the South Division, where Oklahoma State has just one loss while Oklahoma and Texas A&M each have two. The Cowboys have already beaten the Aggies, but they host the Sooners next week, meaning that if Oklahoma can win at Baylor on Saturday then Mayhem could be winner-take-all for the right to meet Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship.
Texas A&M, meanwhile, still has a shot at a three-way tie should it win at Nebraska on Saturday and then win at Texas on Thanksgiving.
Finally, the Big Ten's marquee game is Ohio State at Iowa.
The Buckeyes are in a three-way tie with Wisconsin and Michigan State, and since none of the three teams play each other the rest of the way the three could tie for the conference championship. If that’s the case, Ohio State probably won't get the conference's automatic berth in the Rose Bowl. That will go to the team with the highest BCS ranking, which would likely be Wisconsin.
However, if the Badgers lose to either Michigan or Penn State while the Buckeyes beat the Hawkeyes and the Wolverines, Ohio State will be in great position since it already sits ahead of Michigan State in the BCS.
In essence, nothing can be determined in the Big Ten just yet, but an Ohio State win keeps the Buckeyes in the chase alongside the Badgers and Spartans.
The rivalries are next week. The top teams in the BCS are idle. Conference races, however, are front and center.
If I Had a Ballot ...
1. Oregon (10-0): The Ducks looked vulnerable, but holding the ball for more than nine minutes to close is astounding.
2. Auburn (11-0): A bye leaves two weeks for the Newton controversy to swirl.
3. LSU (9-1): At Arkansas next weekend could be for an at-large spot in a BCS bowl.
4. Stanford (9-1): The Cardinal must deal with rival Cal in Berkeley.
5. Boise State (9-0): Virginia Tech’s resurrection pushes the Broncos past TCU.
6. TCU (11-0): That win over Utah lost its luster after Notre Dame blew out the Utes.
7. Wisconsin (9-1): After 83 against Indiana, what might they do against Michigan?
8. Nebraska (9-1): Each successive win makes the loss to Texas more stunning.
9. Ohio State (9-1): A trip to Iowa is no easy task.
10. Michigan State (9-1): A 10th win should be no problem with Purdue this week.
Eric Avidon can be reached at 508-626-3809 or firstname.lastname@example.org.