Did the NCAA do Mike Slive a favor?
Start with the timing of Wednesday's announcement that Cam Newton had been reinstated by the NCAA and was eligible to play. Curiously, it came three days before the SEC championship putting a nice, neat bow on a slimy case that had been ongoing for a month. It helps everyone -- Auburn, the NCAA and the SEC -- that this case is "resolved" before the biggest TV show on the SEC calendar.
The obvious attempt at a publicity grab helps everyone who was in line to be helped. The NCAA was being criticized for dragging its feet. There was a perception that Auburn was a rogue operation. The SEC and Slive, the commissioner, was taking heat for what it knew and when in the Cam case. Mississippi State is the whistle blower. Folks were starting to write how they would not vote Newton for Heisman. CBS couldn't help but mentioning the case on its telecasts.
"Honestly, it is a major story in college football and has to be covered fully," Sean McManus, president of CBS News and Sports, said this week.
There was, then, lingering embarrassment all around. That's why this was a bit of a grandstand move and, to me, still an unresolved case.
"There are hundreds of cases each year where schools go to the NCAA an self-report a violation," said a source with intimate knowledge of the NCAA process. "If nobody knows about it, the NCAA reinstates the athlete and they don't make announcements. It's obviously because this was high profile and they want to try and put this thing to rest."
"It is interesting," said Doug Zeit, attorney for former Mississippi State player Kenny Rogers who was part of Wednesday's NCAA statement, "[this happened] three days before the championship."
We got our Cam back. We got our villain, his father Cecil. We got our co-conspirator. The NCAA said Cecil collaborated Rogers in a "pay-for-play scenario." The NCAA doesn't actually use names but when Slive added his own admonishment we knew who everyone was talking about.
"The conduct of Cam Newton's father and the involved individual is unacceptable and has no place in the SEC or in intercollegiate athletics," Slive said.
The NCAA cited a bylaw that applied to the case (12.3.3). It states that, "Any individual, agency or organization that represents a prospective student-athlete for compensation in placing the prospective student-athlete in a collegiate institution [getting] financial aid shall be considered an agent ..."
That seems to label Cecil who now will have limited access to Auburn athletics. What that means no one seems to know. Maybe Cecil can't become a financial advisor within 100 feet of Jordan-Hare Stadium. But what about Cam reportedly telling a Mississippi State recruiter that "the money was too much" at Auburn? Wednesday's release seems to let Auburn off the hook, but you have to read between the lines. Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president for academic and membership affairs said, " ... at this time we do not have sufficient evidence that Cam Newton or anyone from Auburn was aware of this activity ..." (Emphasis added).
That should tell you the case is not over, but for the purposes of Saturday's SEC championship game it's game on. As for the bowl game? Check back with the NCAA later. This story isn't going to die after Saturday.
The bylaw (12.3.3) seems to clears up the NCAA interpretation of this case. A couple of weeks ago a lot of us were breathless over the apparent NCAA bylaw that applied to this case. It turns out the case probably revealed a gap in NCAA legislation. In essence, the NCAA had to find a bylaw that best fit the "crime," -- a parent soliciting money for his son's services without the son's knowledge.
However, the NCAA concluded that neither "Newton or anyone from Auburn was aware of this activity, which led to this reinstatement."
"I think the NCAA is trying to say, 'We found a violation so we're going to put this on the father and Kenny Rogers because they were acting as agents," the source said. "The violation occurs when the prospect agrees to be represented by them. [Cam] didn't know anything about it. My argument would be there hasn't been a violation here."
On that confusing basis, Newton was allowed to regain his eligibility. It also gives the deniability excuse to any kid who is ever shopped by his parents, uncle or handler. That's why the NCAA is working hard as I type on a new bylaw to close this loophole.
This story started with Rogers who apparently will not go quietly. Rogers, who runs a scouting service in Chicago, was reported to have sought $180,000-$200,000 from Mississippi State for Cam's services. The school on Wednesday "disassociated" Rogers. However, Rogers was not found to have been a representative of the university's athletic interests in the letter sent to him by the school. So what exactly did Rogers do wrong?
"This is like a knife in his heart," Zeit said. "This is his alma mater. For them to suggest this is beyond the pale but not surprising ... He never solicited any money. That is patently false."
Zeit said Rogers will consider his legal options including defamation suits against "media outlets" and "people from Mississippi State."
Another reason to believe this isn't over: Check this second-to-the-last sentence in Wednesday's release -- The reinstatement process is likely to conclude prior to the close of an investigation.