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CBSSports.com National Columnist

Consider the source on Newton story

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If it's all the same to you, I'm going to believe in the eligibility of Cam Newton. I'm going to believe in Auburn. I'm not going to believe in the sanctity of college football, because my naïveté goes only so far, but I am going to believe in the eligibility -- until proven otherwise -- of Newton, the best player in college football.

Why would I do such a thing now, with the world coming down on Newton like a condemned building? Because after Reggie Bush lost his Heisman, and after Butch Davis had an agent's runner on his coaching staff, and after Marcell Dareus and Marvin Austin and Weslye Saunders, I'm tired of believing in slime.

And, in a possibly related sentence, I'm not prepared to believe in John Bond.

Or in ESPN.com. Or in The New York Times.

Bond is the former Mississippi State quarterback being held up by ESPN.com and the Times as a trustworthy source, and he may well be that. But to me, he looks like a Mississippi State booster. Why would I trust a Mississippi State booster on such a damaging story about Newton -- who chose Auburn after spurning Mississippi State?

I wouldn't. Not yet. It's way too soon to trust John Bond. I'm still trying to figure out who he is, and why he figures into this story in the first place. I mean, I know who he was. He was a quarterback at Mississippi State in the early 1980s and later a graduate assistant coach at Mississippi State. And then he went to work in construction, for a company that has built game-day condos near the Mississippi State football stadium.

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So who is John Bond? He's a Mississippi State guy who feels he has done enough talking for now. Bond had his attorney, Phil Abernathy of Jackson, Miss., call me Monday to decline comment for this story.

But Abernathy did tell me one thing. Well, he implied one thing. He implied that ESPN.com and The New York Times made an enormous error in their stories -- the same error, it turns out. And it's an error so large that, if this were a court of law, the case against Cam Newton would be thrown out in a hail of laughter.

Before I tell you the error, let me tell you the background:

Last week, Bond told ESPN.com and the Times that someone claiming to represent Newton had offered him to Mississippi State for a large sum of money, back when Newton was in junior college during the 2009-10 school year. ESPN.com and the Times reported that the middle man in question, the guy trying to sell Newton to Bond, was Bond's former teammate at Mississippi State, Kenny Rogers.

That would be a first-hand witness, speaking on the record, about a major NCAA violation. Short of a paper trail, that would be some damning evidence.

If it were accurate.

But it's not.

"John Bond never named Kenny Rogers," Abernathy told me, implying that ESPN.com and The New York Times had erred in their reporting.

But don't take Abernathy's implication for it. I can do better than a stinking implication. The day after ESPN.com and the Times pinned their expose of Cam Newton's recruitment to a conversation between Rogers and Bond, that conversation was torpedoed -- by Bond himself. He went on a radio show in Atlanta on Friday and confessed that Kenny Rogers had never asked him for money for Cam Newton.

Read that sentence again.

This isn't about annointing Newton for sainthood, just about getting the facts straight. (Getty Images)  
This isn't about annointing Newton for sainthood, just about getting the facts straight. (Getty Images)  
Here's what Bond told the WCNN radio show, Buck and Kincade, when he was asked about getting an offer from Rogers:

"Actually, there were two people in between it but, basically, yes, that's what happened."

Actually, there were two people in between Rogers and Bond?

Actually?

Bond isn't a source -- he's a gossip. He doesn't have information. He has a rumor. He's the fourth person in a game of telephone tag that started with Rogers -- allegedly -- and went through two other people before landing in the lap of Mississippi State devotee John Bond.

And that's enough to throw Cam Newton and Auburn under the bus?

No. Of course it's not. Even if you're an Alabama fan, you have to see this for the unfair sucker punch that it is. ESPN.com and the Times probably owe Newton a retraction and an apology. They definitely owe an updated story explaining that their source, John Bond, wasn't giving first-hand information but was spreading fourth-hand gossip.

While we're waiting for that, and for pigs to fly ...

Heisman voters should vote for Cam Newton, and Top 25 pollsters should vote for Auburn, with no regrets. Look, something illegal may well have happened involving Cam Newton's recruitment. I'm not so naïve, so stubbornly bent on believing in Newton, that I refuse to accept that possibility. But I do refuse to accept the reporting of ESPN.com and the Times. They took a rumor, now reaching its fifth layer -- the reporters themselves -- and used it to bury Cam Newton.

And some fools believed every word of it. Read this utter nonsense -- 750 words of non sequiturs, one after another -- for an example of the blind following the blind. That story was so bad, so baldly unfair, that it was rewarded by someone at the University of Florida with a scoop: Cam Newton, allegedly, was accused several times of academic cheating while at Florida.

And maybe he did cheat while at Florida. I'm not here to tell you Cam Newton is a choir boy. In fact, for the sake of argument, I'll concede the point simply to make this larger point:

In the grand scheme of things, as the world is being asked to consider John Bond's fourth-hand "information" about Kenny Rogers, Newton's academics at Florida are immaterial.

But this smear job now has escalated to the point where Florida isn't even pretending to stay out of it. It's no coincidence that Bond's "information" -- which he shared almost 10 months ago with Mississippi State -- is coming out now that Florida has fallen by the wayside while Auburn has surged to No. 2 in the BCS. Even before the latest academic allegations came out, Meyer was said to be in the middle of the Bond-Newton saga.

Now, it's official. Newton's academic record at Florida could have been leaked any number of ways, but the most obvious way -- the most transparent -- was for it to come from Florida. So that's what I believe.

But now I want to know more. I want to know what the University of Florida is going to do about the apparent leak of academic information about one of its former students. That's a federal crime, and as a UF graduate, I want answers.

Also, I want an answer to this question: What did Meyer sidekick Dan Mullen, the Mississippi State coach once expected to sign Newton out of junior college, have to do with the John Bond leak?

As for me, I want to know more about John Bond. Who is he? What role does he play at Mississippi State? And why should anybody believe his gossip?


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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