Newton rewrote rules but here's how cheating is still rampant in college

When considering Cam Newton’s legacy in the run-up to the Super Bowl, don’t forget his father.

While son has rewritten the record books, dad has rewritten the NCAA manual. It is because of Cecil Newton that parents aren’t allowed to sell the services of their children to schools.

Yes, there is such a rule. There has to be such a rule because of Cam’s pop. The NCAA admonished Cecil for his actions in 2010 when he tried to extract a reported $180,000 from Mississippi State for his son to become a Bulldog. What, you forgot?

This is not Cam-hating. This is rule-updating as we chug toward National Signing Day. The sophistication of wrongdoers seems to know no boundaries.

Who knew that a parent could be considered an unscrupulous “agent?" Actually, that’s the civil way to put it. In instituting the Cecil Newton rule four years ago this month, the NCAA said “an industry of individuals has been created …”

Cecil supposedly joined the NCAA’s list of rogues it termed “runners, financial advisors, marketing representatives … street agents who seek to broker elite athletes for financial gain.”

Ah, football recruiting. The seedy underside of player procurement always seems to find a new way around the rules. There’s a reason that manual grew to more than 400 pages. That’s also why a committee assigned to trim it down was able to reduce the big book by all of 12 pages.

As we chug toward signing day, it’s worth a reminder not all recruits sign with a school because of the staff or school. Cheating still endures. If anything, it has gotten more sophisticated. Until recently, there hadn’t been many high-profile cases lately. But just wait … “I think there will be some major programs involved [this year],” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said.

After recent interviews with NCAA officials and other sources close to the process, the following is meant as a signing-day primer on modern-day cheating:

The missing assistants: It would be worth your while to check the sidelines next season. Do a simple head count of the coaching staff. An increasing number of assistant coaches have been suspended without public knowledge.

The transgressions aren’t necessarily heinous -- Level III, (AKA secondary violations) -- but that’s not the main issue. There has been a conscious effort in the new penalty structure not to reveal those who have been suspended. “If the question is, 'Are coaches being suspended from games far more frequently?' Yes,” said Gene Marsh, a veteran attorney who has spent much of his career representing schools and coaches in NCAA cases.

The NCAA says there hasn’t been a rising number of suspensions, characterizing it more as a steady flow. Still, are we -- fans, media -- catching it? No. All we’d have to do is keep track of the bodies on the sideline and in the booth -- there nine football assistants on each team -- but we haven’t.

The NCAA processes more than 5,000 such secondary violations per year. It would be silly of us not to assume some fairly big names have been involved. In the new penalty matrix, adopted three-and-a-half years ago, it was debated whether to announce the suspensions. The NCAA and membership decided against the public shaming.

If indeed these are minor violations, what is there to hide? These are public figures, (mostly) publicly paid state employees who go through job evaluations just like you and me. By keeping their identities secret, the media’s antennae are up. Trust me. Lesson for the future: Go Sesame Street the next time your favorite team takes the field. Count. Make sure the entire staff is present. If not, start asking questions.

Metadata: Athletes should think twice about plagiarizing a paper. When you send it to a professor, the document itself leaves a digital fingerprint. The NCAA has the ability to track what computer it came from and where it was when the piece was written -- among other revelations. That’s metadata.

Wrongdoers have been known to travel to another state and logging onto to a different IP address so that it appears a player wrote a paper. The NCAA can track that too. One NCAA official told me all those fingerprints help piece together a story very quickly and very accurately.

Lack of academic integrity remains the NCAA’s No. 1 no-no. In their eyes, the primary idea for attending school still is to get an education. (Don’t laugh.) That leads us to perhaps biggest moment in enforcement history coming later this year with North Carolina. It also reminds us the NCAA still cares about its core mission.

Cam Auburn (USATSI)
Cam Newton's father helped rewrite the NCAA manual, but there's still plenty cheating. (USATSI)

The greased palm: The time-worn $100 handshake still exists -- for the idiots who aren’t savvy enough to pay athletes via more sophisticated and less-traceable methods. “You still have some awkwardly stupid people doing stupid things,” one source close to the investigative process said. “You still have boosters with too much to drink handing out cash.”

And it doesn’t end there. “Tractors, farm implements, whatever it is that’s of value to that prospect can be currency,” said NCAA enforcement director Jon Duncan. “We are working internally to try to figure out how to get at a paper trail or a good, old-fashioned bag man. It still happens.”

In this age, though, it’s more likely you’ll see -- or not see -- casino chips as a payoff. Casinos are everywhere. Chips can be handed out like nickels. Hey, if they’re worth $500, all the better. Illicit money can be laundered through a donation to a church or a non-profit organization. Once it gets there, the cash descends down a rabbit hole the NCAA has a hard time reaching.

Gift cards have long been around. They can be used for, well, everything -- a night out on the town, gas, books, even tuition for online courses. More experienced cheaters will buy the gift cards (with cash) in an athlete’s hometown so it looks like they came from the family.

Bitcoin has become a rising concern. The “cryptocurrency” is still a bit, well, cryptic. But anything that passes money in digital bits means it can be hiding. “The currency is almost unlimited,” Duncan added. “Sometimes it’s U.S. dollars, sometimes it’s Bitcoin, sometimes it’s casino chips. Sometimes it’s a house for mom and dad or a sibling.”

Seven-on-seven influence: It’s hard to quantify how the entrance of reputable sports apparel giants in an offseason game of touch is a bad thing. Still, the offseason seven-on-seven influence is of primary concern to the NCAA.

The high school coach is increasingly being walled off from the recruiting process much the way it happened in basketball. Those influencers in seven-on-seven can be the coach or a benefactor or a person who becomes a de facto “guardian."

Strange -- one observer noted -- how those guardians never come to the aid of a 5-foot-8 kid who can’t tackle.

Improper influence makes sense in basketball where the odds are better that a street agent can hit on the next Michael Jordan. But what about football and a 100-man roster? Duncan said there are less incidences in basketball but more money. In football, there are more players but less money.

Stay tuned for signing day and beyond. No doubt new ways to cheat are right around the corner. “We’re trying to stay current or ahead of where we are,” Duncan said.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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