Wiedmer: Newton saga closer to start than finish for Auburn, SEC

Wiedmer: Newton saga closer to start than finish for Auburn, SEC

November 15th, 2010 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - College

We can probably all agree this morning that the Cam Newton Saga has become both the most delicious and distasteful story of this or any college football season.

It contains greed, deception, religion, lies, confessions, contrition and uncertainty. And that's just the prelude.

If Cam's dad Cecil will ever put a sock in his mouth and quit releasing the possible truth in bits and pieces, he could almost certainly ink a book or movie deal that would surely pay back whatever money he may have accepted to prostitute his son.

But all of that is going to take time to sort out. And neither the Southeastern Conference nor the Bowl Championship Series has much time left to find a replacement for the Tigers in either the SEC title game, BCS title game or both.

And woe be to college football in general if Auburn wins the SEC championship on Dec. 4th inside the Georgia Dome to earn a spot in the BCS title tilt, then is forced to sit Newton before that contest.

Can you imagine the legitimate arguments pouring forth from TCU and Boise State -- assuming neither of those programs reaches the title game -- should that happen?

In fact, does anyone seriously think Auburn could have finished in the top three in the SEC West without Newton?

Ban Newton for the BCS showdown and Auburn's championship opponent will print T-shirts proclaiming (B)eat (C)heaters (S)illy, LSU will rightly petition the SEC office to replace one Tiger squad with another, and Cecil Newton will be forced to enter a witness protection program to avoid being harmed by Auburn's friends and foes alike.

So barring the NCAA administering its first swift ruling in history, Auburn has to keep playing Newton and the rest of college football has to hope this ultimately has a happy ending for the nation's second-ranked team.

The odds of that?

Just a hunch, but Las Vegas might not even put that one on the board.

After all, the Tigers have a long history of ignoring NCAA guidelines. They've endured seven major infraction hits since 1957, including a two-year postseason and television ban in 1979 and the dreaded "lack of institutional control" tag in 1993.

Among SEC member schools, only Kentucky has a similar historical aversion to abiding by the NCAA rulebook.

This doesn't mean Auburn has done anything wrong concerning Newton. His father may have hit a wall in attempting to make a $180,000 deal with Mississippi State and decided that the promise of a college degree and unlimited toilet paper rolling of Toomer's Corner was the way to go.

But it was also leaked this past weekend that the Tigers have apparently retained the legal services of Gene Marsh, a former chair of the NCAA's Committee on Infractions, to represent it.

What makes that all the more intriguing is that Marsh is also a law professor emeritus at Alabama. When Auburn is counting on a Bama guy to save its football bacon, you know the Tigers are more than a little worried.

But what they shouldn't do is bench Newton for the Iron Bowl at Alabama on Nov. 26. At least not unless the NCAA would grant the Tigers immunity for the first 11 games that he played and won for AU this season.

Because unless the NCAA has suddenly grown a sympathetic heart, it's going to eventually force the Tigers to forfeit every game that Newton has participated in this season if it decides Auburn broke the rules.

So unless you can make a stunning case for a 1-11 season -- assuming Auburn could possibly win at Alabama without Newton -- being so much better than a possible 0-12, 0-13 or 0-14 season if Cash Man keeps playing and is eventually ruled ineligible, you have to play him.

But whether justice will ever really be served here is another question. Clearly, if Auburn paid either Cecil or Cam Newton a thin dime to sign out of junior college, the Tigers deserve whatever harsh penalty comes their way.

But unless the Newtons admit to accepting cash, an Auburn booster or coach wrote a check, or a money-sniffing dog discovers a paper bag full of Ben Franklins under Cecil Newton's mattress, the NCAA could have a rough time proving any of this.

And let's just say that the money went to Cecil's Atlanta-area church to make the necessary repairs to avoid having it condemned. Assuming the repairs were made and whoever paid for them holds fast to the argument that he was merely attempting to assist a church in need rather than an Auburn football team in need of a quarterback, does the NCAA really want to attack that public relations nightmare?

The fact is, without a money trail there would seem to be more than enough plausible deniability for a Crimson Tide attorney to help Auburn beat the rap.

But between now and the Iron Bowl, and perhaps the SEC title game the following week, the more immediate concern is whether or not the SEC's latest pay-to-view athlete can stay on the field long enough to deny TCU, Boise State or LSU a chance to cash in on the Tigers' troubles.

My money's on Auburn through Dec. 4. After that, all bets are off.