As of yet there has been no hard evidence that any money changed hands to secure Cam Newton for Auburn, but given what we now know about the elder Mr. Newton, as Dan Wismar of the sports Website theclevelandfan.com writes, “to believe in [Cecil Newton’s] innocence one has to take an irrational leap of faith. It is borderline delusional.”
The second fact, for which no sources, named or unnamed, are needed, is that Cam Newton, who has led the No. 1-ranked Tigers to a berth in the BCS national championship game on Jan. 20, 2011, is deserving of the Heisman Trophy. Mr. Newton has run and passed for an amazing 48 touchdowns.
As Paul Finebaum, host of the most widely heard radio show in the Southeast puts it, “Cam might be the first player to deserve the Heisman Trophy as either a passer or as a runner.”
Under normal circumstances, this would be the least suspenseful Heisman vote in years. But these aren’t normal circumstances. If Mr. Newton doesn’t get the trophy, whose winner will be announced Saturday, his spoiler won’t be a current player, but someone who won the Heisman five years ago—Reggie Bush, formerly of the University of Southern California Trojans and now of the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.
Back in mid-September, Mr. Bush relinquished his trophy in the wake of the NCAA’s ruling that he and his family “accepted improper benefits” from a sports agent while he was at USC. It was the first time that a player ever returned the award.
So while the Heisman votes are being counted and college football fans anticipate the title game next month between Auburn and No. 2-ranked Oregon, Auburn fans are holding their breath wondering what else the National Collegiate Athletic Association might uncover.
They have good reason for apprehension. Auburn has been cited seven times for recruiting violations, more than any other college football program. But perhaps the most important question regarding the NCAA’s power in the Newton situation isn’t being asked at all: Why is it the NCAA’s business what college boosters pay to any college athlete?
Stated another way, if Mr. Newton were the most brilliant young physicist in the country, would anyone object if someone gave him $180,000 to attend Mississippi State or Auburn or anywhere else?
The NCAA forbids such payments—or gifts of any kind—to college athletes because it reserves the right for itself to control all money coming into college sports from television, ticket sales, merchandising, etc., and all money going out—that is, back to its clients, the colleges. The NCAA is the most powerful governing body in American sports. It has the kind of dominion over tens of thousands of college athletes that owners and coaches in pro leagues can only dream of.
Big-time college stars like Mr. Newton—and Mr. Bush before him—are professionals in every sense of the word but one: They aren’t paid. You might think that being American citizens, they would have the right to be compensated for the huge sums they help generate. But student athletes not only don’t have the rights of professional players, they don’t even have the rights of other college students, who are free to hold jobs and sell their services as they choose. And they don’t even have the right to workers’ compensation if injured.
The humiliation of Mr. Bush and the current investigation of Mr. Newton—which has already resulted in his family submitting its personal financial records and those of his father’s church—reveal the NCAA as a monolith designed to control the earning power of talented young athletes. Despite this blatant bullying, few seem to recognize the NCAA for what it is: a monopoly in restraint of free-market trade. Or as Federal District Judge Juan Burciaga called it in a 1981 antitrust lawsuit, “a classic cartel.”
The real triumph for the NCAA is that it has brainwashed so many in the sports media into believing that it acts in the best interests of the athletes themselves. Many pundits contend that, after all, Mr. Newton knew what the rules were when he decided to play college football; what is never pointed out is that Mr. Newton had no say in making those rules and no one to represent his interests. As Dan Wetzel, co-author of the recent book “Death to the BCS,” puts it: “Cam Newton has a potential worth in the tens of millions of dollars. Why isn’t he allowed an agent?”
The Newton story took a bizarre turn last week when both the NCAA and Auburn University declared him ineligible to play football, then reinstated him two days later in time for him to play in the SEC Championship game won resoundingly by Auburn, 56-17. This has left many observers wondering if the NCAA’s investigation is at an end. Anyone familiar with the NCAA’s history can assure you that it is not. (It took nearly five years for the Reggie Bush verdict to come down.)
Why Mr. Newton was allowed to play against South Carolina and will no doubt be allowed to play in the national championship game is obvious: He is worth millions to the NCAA and to Auburn, and the NCAA isn’t going to kill a cash cow while it can still be milked. But one thing is absolutely certain: Whatever the NCAA finally decides, it isn’t going to refund any of the money generated while Cam Newton was an “amateur.”