We haven't waded into the murky depths of the Cam Newton scandal for the following reasons:
- This is the sort of thing that brings the whole conference down. Has no one learned from the SWC? No one comes out of this unscathed in the entire conference. When the Albert Means scandal raged, yes, Alabama went on probation, but the national story was partly that "the whole SEC is corrupt." Scandals like this make us all look bad. I don't rejoice at any SEC program getting caught cheating.
- I realize LSU benefits if Auburn has to vacate wins or if Newton is ruled ineligible from this day forward, but the NCAA isn't known for working fast. There's not a great chance the NCAA actions comes in time. Even if the NCAA does move fast, it's beyond cheap. Auburn beat us on the field fair and square. Yes, Newton may have taken illegal benefits, but let's not whine about what happened on the field. If you lose, don't try and reverse the result with your lawyers.
- It was all rumor and innuendo and until last night, it didn't directly involve Auburn. Now, ESPN's reporting does link Auburn. It's now a legit story. There's not just smoke now, there's fire.
- It's just icky.
But the recent ESPN story puts this firmly in our crosshairs. We can't ignore this anymore. TET is currently whistling past the graveyard while RBR is cackling with delight, but we're taking a more cautious take on this.
First and foremost, someone owes an apology to Joe Schad. We take our shots at the pundit class all of the time, but actual reporting is a hard job. We attack poor analysis and lazy tropes, but actually investigating a story is a different beast entirely. I'm not sure what Joe Schad has done, but he has a great story with two anonymous sources with details that check out with what is in the public record. This is not a hit job. Joe Schad has no interest in tearing Auburn down. He wants a good story, of course, but every detail he's revealed so far has eventually checked out. His reporting gets the benefit of the doubt right now. This is a big story, and kudos to Schad for breaking it.
Now, I don't want Cam Newton to be guilty. I want a player of his caliber to be clean. I honestly want the story to be "quarterback makes the most out of a second chance." I don't like Auburn, but its apparently not at Bama levels of hate. I don't want Auburn to go on probation. Again. I want to beat them straight up.
But it's becoming harder and harder to think that there isn't something seriously wrong. We can all pretty much agree at this point that Kenny Rogers asked Mississippi State for cash in exchange for Newton's commitment. We probably lose Mississippi State fans and no one else when we assume that Mississippi State actually offered the cash, and we can also safely assume that Rogers was acting on the Newton family's behalf.
So, where does that leave us? Why on earth would Cam Newton turn down the Mississippi State cash and go to Auburn? Either Gene Chizik is a great recruiter or something really fishy is going on down on the Plains. There's just too much smoke not to be fire. There hasn't been that solid piece of evidence yet, but this story isn't that old. It still might come.
EDITED TO ADD FROM THE COMMENTS: To be fair, here is the Newton defense from the comments:
The NCAA and SEC were each put on notice of the claim in Jan, yet as of today "A person familiar with the situation has told The Associated Press that the university has received no letter of inquiry from the NCAA and that an internal review of phone and e-mail records showed no contact with Kenny Rogers, whom ESPN.com cited as the man who approached Bond…. the university also found nothing improper in the personal and church bank records of Newton’s father, an Atlanta pastor.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who also recruited Newton out of Blinn, said he saw “nothing at all” out of the ordinary during that process."
Don’t know the truth, but this seemed important.
Zimm is absolutely right. There are plenty of denials out there. There is plenty of evidence that Rogers was not acting on the Newton's behalf and that MSU, especially, acted appropriately by reporting this right away to the NCAA. Auburn didn't report the matter, but until last night, there was no evidence linking Auburn to Rogers. This very well could be one nefarious guy, Rogers, acting alone and being promptly turned in. But, as I mention in the comments, that's also pretty bad.
I hope we're wrong. But I don't think we are. Auburn, a program that's all too familiar with the NCAA's Infraction Committee, doesn't exactly have the credibility to say "Trust us. We're on the level." Auburn's only familiarity with the NCAA rulebook is on looking for loopholes to get around it.
Maybe this is the time they are telling the truth. I'd like for that to be true. I ‘d like for the SEC to show off its dominance by winning its fifth consecutive title from four different teams. I even would like for Newton to win the Heisman and be a feel-good story and not a cautionary tale.
This can have a happy ending. But I don't think it will. I don't even think Auburn fans do. I want Auburn to lose on the field, but that's the extent of it. Auburn losing games making me happy. But if they are guilty of these kind of infractions, well, that's just sad.
No one wins if that's true.