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How The Curious Case of Cam Newton Hurts College Sports

Submitted by on December 6, 2010 – 9:39 am4 Comments

The NCAA just blew a huge opportunity.

Fair or not, they had a chance to make a statement in the recent situation involving Auburn University quarterback Cam Newton. In case if you haven’t turned on SportsCenter in the last month, let me start off by briefly recapping the situation.

Essentially, Cam Newton and his father Cecil have been accused of trying to use the “pay-for-play” system late last year when deciding where Newton—a former QB at the University of Florida—would play college football during the 2010 season. What this means is they were allegedly looking for somewhere in the range of $180,000 to $200,000 for Cam’s signature on a national letter of intent to play for a specific school. News of this leaked to the press way back in October when Cam’s name first started popping up in the race for the Heisman Trophy—prompting a whole bunch of discussion over whether or not Newton should have been eligible to play with Auburn this year if the allegation were true.

Fast-forward to the middle of last week and the NCAA announced what they’d found during their investigation of the situation. And it was, to put it nicely, a travesty. They said Cecil Newton was involved in some sort of pay-for-play scandal, but he did it without Cam knowing, which basically absolved Cam of any wrongdoing. Let that sink in for a second and then repeat after me.

Um…WHAT!?! There have been plenty of these types of situations going on over the course of the last few years (look no further than the Reggie Bush mess that we discussed a couple months ago) but this takes the cake. Not only has the NCAA dropped the ball here. They’ve also hurt all college sports by making it easier than ever to cheat the system. How? Try on a few of these theoretical situations for size:

Case A: A student-athlete from southern California is an all-state performer at a small high school and is being heavily recruited by colleges throughout the Western region. Rather than sign with one of them, though, he accepts a scholarship to a small university in the Midwest. But just six months later, the player is averaging 22 points per game when it’s revealed that the player’s uncle took a one-time payment of $50,000 from the school’s boosters. However, the player then reveals his uncle wasn’t acting on his behalf when he accepted the money and, therefore, he isn’t punishable for the violation.

Case B: A five-star quarterback from Pennsylvania lives with his mother, who is divorced from his father. He initially expresses interest in attending the University of Pittsburgh to be close to home but later accepts a scholarship offer from a big school in the ACC conference. Following his first season with the team, in which he leads the school to a bowl game, a report comes out alleging the athlete’s family took a payout in order to play at a school outside of Pennsylvania. The family member who orchestrated it is allegedly the athlete’s father. However, the player reveals he has not spoken to his father in years and is cleared to play the following season.

Case C: A young lady from Connecticut plays on a high-school hoops team coached by her mother. While being recruited, her mother/coach mentions to a booster that her high-school team could really use new uniforms. Those new uniforms make it to the school the following week. The next year, the NCAA finds out and investigates the fact that this girl may have received illegal benefits to play basketball for a specific college. However, the violations against her are later dropped when she says she had no idea where the uniforms came from during high school.

All three of these cases prove one thing: When it comes to NCAA violations, ignorance is, in fact, bliss. In the case of Cam Newton, it sounds as if he basically said, “I didn’t know what was happening,” when his father was asking for money through a third-party and, because of that, the NCAA has let him off the hook. In his defense, there’s a chance Cam actually didn’t know that anything was going on, if it actually was going on. There’s a chance his father kept him out of the loop. But by accepting that defense so quickly, the NCAA has run the risk of having all student-athletes who face NCAA violations use similar excuses. And then what?

In the end, this is one of the rare moments when the NCAA doing nothing—at least initially—might have been the best option. Rather than holding an investigation in the middle of the season as Newton makes a push for the Heisman, the NCAA should have waited until after the season to launch a full-out investigation. Instead, they launched a half-assed attempt and, not surprisingly, got half-assed results.

If Cam Newton’s situation teaches us anything, it’s that there’s two ways to prove your innocence to the NCAA: Don’t do anything wrong—or, if you don’t feel like doing that, just place the blame on someone else and say you didn’t know anything wrong was going on around you.

And while we have a funny feeling that’s not what the NCAA was trying to teach by clearing Cam Newton, it’s the only lesson we can see anyone out there learning from this whole situation. Way to blow the opportunity, guys.

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