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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

In search of Heisman standards that fit the changing times


The Heisman ballots were mailed out Monday containing the usual announcement:

"The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity."

Cam Newton is the best player, and in a perfect world, that's all that would matter in the voting process. (AP)  
Cam Newton is the best player, and in a perfect world, that's all that would matter in the voting process. (AP)  
Sorry, that's not good enough anymore. We, the voters, need guidance. For too long our moral compass has been directed by ambiguous voting guidelines. Please, someone, in these uncertain times, define "integrity." Is it the integrity exhibited by O.J. Simpson? Billy Cannon? Reggie Bush, who at last check still hadn't returned the trophy he shamed?

There's also this from the Heismen: "In order that there is no misunderstanding regarding the eligibility of a candidate, the recipient of the award must be a bona fide student of an accredited college or university including the United States Academies. The recipients must be in compliance with the bylaws defining at NCAA student-athlete."

Misunderstanding? Oh, there's plenty of that. Just what is a bona fide student? Andrew Luck's class load at Stanford doesn't compare to the random athlete-student majoring in football. The wording seems to suggest that just being eligible is the thing. Ah, but how was that eligibility obtained?

Every question, no matter how uncomfortable, is now on the table. It's a bold, new, seedy world out there for the nation's most honored amateur trophy. A world that requires some updating by the Heisman Trust. The Stiff Arm is in danger of losing some of that glitter. Today's hero may be tomorrow's bum. The Bush case set an unseemly precedent -- the possibility of losing the award retroactively. Bush set the bar high -- or is it low? -- shaming himself, his family, his school and the Heisman Trust.

You might have noticed with the Cam Newton case that we've got our toes hanging over the edge again, staring into a deep, dark morass of ethics, academics, and athletics. The argument is more about who deserves to win the Heisman Trophy rather than judging the best athlete. That's why the Heisman has to change.

It needs more definitive voting guidance because there is a slow, simmering, rising Heisman backlash developing against Newton. The perfect storm of scandal, meshing with the best player on the No. 2 team, has created an unsavory scenario going forward: Maybe the winner ends up being the least guilty party.

I've already seen columnists say they aren't going to vote for Newton because of, well, just because. All we know for sure is that Newton had a stolen laptop arrest expunged after he completed a pre-trial diversion program. He may or may not have committed academic fraud at Florida. The situation at Auburn could turn into one of the biggest scandals in college history. Or maybe he's clean.

For now, though, Newton is eligible. As of today, I would vote him No. 1 on my ballot. That's where it gets dicey for the Heisman and its ambiguity.

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If you're not going to vote for Newton, you sure as hell can't vote for LaMichael James. The Oregon running back was suspended for the opener after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of harassment. That followed an altercation with his girlfriend. James was actually sentenced to jail but quickly released.

If you're not going to vote for Newton, you can't vote for Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon. The fine wide receiver has a DUI case pending against him. He was suspended for a game, too. See what I mean? If you hold a charge that no longer exists against Newton, then James and Blackmon certainly can't be on your ballot.

I would vote for all three, but check back with me tomorrow -- or in another 15 minutes. The point being that the Heisman can no longer encompass a one-season snapshot. If the award wants to protect its rep, it has to change. It has to hold winners and candidates accountable. Every person has to vote their conscience. And if their conscience tells them that Newton is the Reggie Bush we didn't know at USC, then that is their right. But to avoid such a mess, the Heisman has to take the lead.

Suggested new voting rules:

 Those players who are directly involved in a fully decided NCAA infractions case (after appeals, etc.) shall not be eligible for the award. That includes a player involved in a case in middle school, high school and/or college.

 If a winner is found to be directly involved in a fully decided NCAA infractions case at any point in his life, the Trust reserves the right to retroactively vacate the name of the winner and request return of the trophy. That includes, but is not limited to, the possibility that the winner is found to have competed while ineligible.

 Players charged with or found guilty of a felony at the time of voting shall be noted by the Trust and subject to review as a viable candidate. Winners convicted of a felony at any point in their lives shall have their Heisman victory subject to review.

That about cover it? Sure, it sounds legal and heavy-handed, but this is the age we live in. The Heisman ballot was never meant to turn into the NCAA Manual. But the Heisman never thought it would be embarrassed like it has been in the last year.

That's why we can no longer judge a snapshot of a season. Modern times dictate we sit and watch the entire life story.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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