The Albert Means situation arose while he was playing at Alabama and while Means received no money his former high school coach did (from an Alabama booster named Logan Young who was later convicted in a court of law of paying money to Lynn Lang). Because the infraction involved the school in which Means was attending AND money had clearly changed hands, Alabama was pounded by the NCAA.

Reggie Bush was declared by the NCAA to have received “gifts” from sports agents and, importantly, the NCAA expressly stated that Southern Cal coaches should have been aware of very probable infractions involving Bush. While Bush has never admitted to violations, the agents in question identified themselves and offered supporting evidence concerning their allegations. Again the infractions occurred while enrolled Bush was at USC, the site of the violations.

Cam Newton versus Means and Bush

In the present situation at Auburn, matters are quite different and the logic the NCAA applied in the prior cases will not apply to the accusations against Cam Newton.
Which scandal is/was worse?
Newton’s father’s abortive attempt at soliciting improper benefits from a sports agent and a MSI booster? Reggie Bush and family accepting benefits from a sports agent and the USC staff looking the other way? Alabama booster Logan Young’s pay-for-play scheme to secure the commitment of Albert Means? The failure of the NCAA to find a way to pay athletes a stipend for their cash cow performance for the schools and NCAA? None of them bother me. College sports are just under the table professional sports. Submit Vote vote to see results

Which scandal is/was worse?
*
Newton’s father’s abortive attempt at soliciting improper benefits from a sports agent and a MSI booster?
40.0%
*
Reggie Bush and family accepting benefits from a sports agent and the USC staff looking the other way?
40.0%
*
Alabama booster Logan Young’s pay-for-play scheme to secure the commitment of Albert Means?
20.0%
*
The failure of the NCAA to find a way to pay athletes a stipend for their cash cow performance for the schools and NCAA?
0.0%
*
None of them bother me. College sports are just under the table professional sports.
0.0%
Total votes: 5

A key aspect of the NCAA findings was the lack of criticism by the NCAA concerning Auburn’s handling of the investigation including their decision to leave him eligible until provided with clear evidence of an infraction by the NCAA.

“Based on the information available to the reinstatement staff at this time, we do not have sufficient evidence that Cam Newton or anyone from Auburn was aware of this activity, which led to his reinstatement. From a student-athlete reinstatement perspective, Auburn University met its obligation under NCAA bylaw 14.11.1. Under this threshold, the student-athlete has not participated while ineligible.”

The above statement, quoted from the NCAA press release, strongly suggests that Auburn University was fully compliant in its adherence to NCAA rules in regards to Newton’s recruitment. It also indicates there was insufficient evidence concerning any violations to suggest that Auburn should perhaps been more proactive in monitoring the situation. This is in sharp contrast to the NCAA finding regarding Reggie Bush where USC was publicly condemned for failure to properly oversee the activities of Bush and other star players.

The second key issue is whether Cam Newton was aware of any such illicit schemes. While it is certainly easy to imagine that surely Cam knew, people are often able to conceal stuff from their children and even their spouses so it is possible the son never knew anything about the pay-to-play negotiations. Thus it becomes a matter of proof.
107161886_crop_340x234 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Speculation requires no proof but when punishments are to be levied and sanctions imposed, it is critical to make sure the evidence supports the findings. In the Newton case, the NCAA decided they lack sufficient proof and in the absence of such proof, found that Newton was not complicit with the infraction.

What Cam Newton knew or did not know is a large part of the raging debate about the NCAA findings and yet it seems uncertain as to whether that would have been much of a mitigating fact if Newton had elected to attend Mississippi State University rather than Auburn. Given that other players in the past have been punished by the NCAA when people acted on their behalf without the player’s knowledge, the finding that Newton knew nothing seems to be a footnote and little more.

In fact, the thing that separates Newton’s situation from that of any other case that has preceded it is that the university involved with the pay-to-play scheme is not the one where Newton ended up. In both the Reggie Bush and Albert Means situations, the infractions occurred while the player was participating in that school’s athletic program. Newton ended up at Auburn.

The NCAA was faced with the distinct possibility of punishing a school for the infractions committed by another school or people acting on its behalf. I suspect that the NCAA found that unpalatable and is hiding behind the “Cam Didn’t Know” finding which is far easier to repair than addressing how to stop schools from being punished for things that took place at other places.
92355517_crop_340x234 Rick Dole/Getty Images

Hanging Schads (or Why Go to Auburn?)

Of course, many have questioned how Newton ended up at Auburn. According to an unnamed source cited by ESPN’s Joe Schad, a Mississippi State “recruiter” was told that Newton mentioned in a telephone conversation that the money at Auburn was “too much.” Others choose to simply make the logical leap that if MSU (or one of their boosters) was willing to entertain offering money to Newton, the young man’s decision to head to the Plains suggests the Bulldogs were outbid.

Presumably, the NCAA talked with the Mississippi State “recruiter” about the alleged conversation but that hangs on if the “recruiter” even came forward and openly testified. Whether the NCAA actually spoke with the “recruiter” or not, it is quite evident that the investigators found the alleged telephone conversations to be less than compelling as the NCAA report did not consider them to be sufficient evidence of any participation by Auburn in a pay-to-play arrangement.

At least for now, only the most die-hard conspiracy theorists can responsibly hold on to that alleged telephone conversation as proof of some payola scam involving Auburn.

The Investigations Continue

The NCAA has made it quite clear that their investigation is ongoing and that if additional evidence is discovered that warrants revisiting Newton’s eligibility, it is prepared to do so. Yet the fact that the NCAA felt comfortable enough with the facts thus far in its possession to act as decisively and clearly as they have is a strong indicator that no further findings to the contrary are expected.
Should Schools be Punished for Infractions Occurring at Other Institutions?
Yes. Players cannot be allowed to cheat so the punishment must follow the player. Maybe. It depends on the nature of the infraction and whether benefits actually changed hands. No. NCAA sanctions should take place only against schools who participated in prohibited actitvities contrart to NCAA rules. Submit Vote vote to see results

Should Schools be Punished for Infractions Occurring at Other Institutions?
*
Yes. Players cannot be allowed to cheat so the punishment must follow the player.
20.0%
*
Maybe. It depends on the nature of the infraction and whether benefits actually changed hands.
40.0%
*
No. NCAA sanctions should take place only against schools who participated in prohibited actitvities contrart to NCAA rules.
40.0%
Total votes: 5

Nor is it safe to assume that Auburn and Newton are in the NCAA cross hairs alone. At a minimum, Mississippi State has cause to be concerned given the involvement of Bill Bell in a recruiting matter as well as the nature of the MSU “recruiters.”

It remains possible that Cam Newton could be declared ineligible at a later date based on new information but given the statement by the NCAA yesterday, Auburn is likely at risk of having to vacate wins only if the NCAA actually accuses the Tigers of misconduct. A violation for playing an ineligible player is now off the board.

NCAA Faced Hobson’s Choice

The NCAA was placed in a terrible position by the ethically challenged trio of Cecil Newton, Kenny Rogers, and Bill Bell. Their dilemma was further aggravated by the five week delay by MSU in submitting their initial report to the SEC, its lack of completeness, and the subsequent delay in follow-up by the Bulldogs.

As the picture cleared, the NCAA had found evidence of a major infraction but one committed without the knowledge of the principle athlete and taking place at a school never attended by the player. The NCAA investigation found no compelling evidence that Cam Newton was part of this scheme or that Auburn participated or had knowledge of such endeavors. The ambiguities of the NCAA by-laws were magnified by the lack of any money trail to prove improper receipt of benefits.

Shopping players is a major violation but the facts surrounding Newton made for a peculiar situation in that while violations occurred, they did not necessarily reach the level that called for the player being declared ineligible given Newton’s apparent lack of knowledge, the lack of any improper benefits being proven, and Newton not playing at MSU.

The NCAA was faced with punishing a player who could not be proven to be part of the plot and punishing a school that was not party to the violation. Or they could recognize the unique set of facts, issue a narrow ruling, and then close the loop hole with changes to the by-laws. Neither precedent was appealing but the one adopted demonstrated the most just and manageable outcome.

The Cam/Cecil Newton scandal will dominate the college football landscape for years to come and all the more so because of its unique facts and wild speculation. To compare it with those scandals associated with Reggie Bush or Albert Means is to lump diamonds and coal together. They are both carbon but the differences are stark!

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