Going into the first college football weekend of November, there should be storylines everywhere.
LSU hosts Alabama in what is all but an elimination game in the SEC West. Tyler Bray, the long and strong Tennessee freshman, makes his first career start at quarterback tonight at Memphis. Arkansas is at South Carolina for a game that each needs for stating its case as a program that can be better than middle of the road in the SEC.
But as high school football gives way to college, there has been only one SEC story since early Thursday evening. Cam Newton, the runaway train and runaway Heisman Trophy favorite who has lifted Auburn to the top of the league, again has assumed college football’s spotlight.
Unless you live under a rock, you have heard about the stories by ESPN.com and the New York Times on allegations that someone named Kenny Rogers claimed that Newton would sign with Mississippi State out of junior college for $180,000. And unless you have suffered a serious head injury, you know that’s a major NCAA no-no.
It is the type of story that sends web traffic toward Atlanta rush-hour levels. It includes the kinds of juicy tidbits that make Auburn fans cringe and the fans of Auburn’s rivals hit the speed dial for heckling phone calls.
Before we go any further, a disclaimer: I graduated from Auburn in the mid-1990s. I’ve been to more than a few football games as a student, as a fan and as a professional. With that said, if Auburn paid a single penny to gain any recruiting edge that helped land Cam Newton or a Fig Newton, it deserves to be punished to the fullest extent of the NCAA’s powers.
However, I do not think Auburn coaches and officials did anything resembling the references and insinuations that have been tossed around in the last 48 hours. Is any player — even one as productive as Newton, who has been the conductor of this Tiger band — worth the risk of what that would cost the program?
Auburn, of course, has been relatively quiet except for the statements from head coach Gene Chizik saying plainly that Newton is eligible.
An unnamed source within the Auburn athletic department told The Associated Press that the program had “no contact whatsoever” with Rogers, and Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs issued a vague but pointed statement Friday.
“The people that are athletic-savvy people, what Gene said last night is that Cam is eligible … so I think that people that know athletics know what that means,” Jacobs said. “Unfortunately, we can’t talk about it, but I can just tell you this: What went on yesterday, what came out yesterday, was no surprise to us. We have known about that for quite some time.
“I can’t specifically talk about this case, but any time you have any question about the eligibility of any student-athlete, regardless of what sport it is, you do not allow them to play. He will be playing tomorrow.”
Moving forward, what does it mean? First, it probably means bad news for the UTC Mocs, who play at Auburn today.
Second, it means Newton and Auburn will hear everything from whispers to war chants no matter what heights they reach or how little evidence is ever presented.
Third, Newton’s chances of winning the Heisman went from “Well, duh,” to “Well, maybe.”
Several Heisman voters said Friday that Newton would not be on ther ballots because he failed to meet the integrity of the award. That’s their opinion, and it is no doubt shaped by the recent scandal that forced Reggie Bush to lose his Heisman.
That said, the coming days should be filled with more intrigue and hopefully more evidence than innuendo. We hope all the facts will come out and the truth will be learned — whatever it turns out to be.
And we can go back to focusing on stories on the field.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...