Newton cleared to play in SEC title game

A scene that has been witnessed all season throughout Southeastern Conference football stadiums took place off the field Wednesday.

Cam is in the clear.

The NCAA's student-athlete reinstatement staff announced that Auburn junior quarterback Cam Newton is eligible to compete amid an investigation into his recruitment last year while he attended Blinn (Texas) College. The governing body determined Newton's father, Cecil Newton, and an owner of a scouting service, former Mississippi Sate player Kenny Rogers, worked to market the 6-foot-6, 250-pounder in a pay-for-play scheme but that Newton had no knowledge of it.

"Based on the information available to the reinstatement staff at this time, we do not have sufficient evidence that Cam Newton or anyone from Auburn was aware of this activity," said Kevin Lennon, the NCAA vice president for academic and membership affairs.

Newton has accounted for 43 touchdowns in leading the Tigers to a 12-0 record entering Saturday afternoon's SEC title game against South Carolina (9-3) in Atlanta.

The NCAA determined Monday that a violation of amateurism rules occurred, and Auburn quietly took the procedural step Tuesday of declaring Newton ineligible. When a university realizes an NCAA violation has occurred, it must declare the player ineligible before requesting reinstatement of eligibility.

Such decisions are made by the NCAA national office staff and can involve conditions such as withholding from competition and repayment of extra benefits, but Newton was reinstated without any conditions.

"We are pleased that the NCAA has agreed with our position that Cam Newton has been and continues to be eligible to play football at Auburn University," athletic director Jay Jacobs said. "We appreciate the diligence and professionalism of the NCAA and its handling of this matter."

Chattanooga-area Auburn fans obviously were pleased by the ruling, though the NCAA has yet to declare the investigation over. Former Dalton High and Auburn quarterback Loran Carter sent a text message with the news to his daughter, who he claims is a bigger Auburn fan than he is.

"What a relief," Carter said. "His dad broke a rule, but nothing as far as Cam Newton. What a thing to go through."

The NCAA announced that, in conjunction with the case, Auburn has limited Cecil Newton's access to the athletics program and that Mississippi State has disassociated itself with Rogers. Two Mississippi State boosters accused Cecil Newton and Rogers of trying to get cash payments for Newton to play for the Bulldogs for a reported $180,000.

NCAA Bylaw 12.3.3 forbids individuals or entities to represent a prospective athlete for compensation to a university for an athletic scholarship.

"The conduct of Cam Newton's father and the involved individual is unacceptable and has no place in the SEC or in intercollegiate athletics," SEC commissioner Mike Slive said. "The actions taken by Auburn University and Mississippi State University make it clear this behavior will not be tolerated in the SEC."

Newton is the first player in league history to throw for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in the same season, and he has been named SEC offensive player of the week a record six times. He produced a first down 10 times on third-down carries during a 49-31 win over Georgia on Nov. 13, and he accounted for all four touchdowns in last Friday's 28-27 comeback win at Alabama.

The Tigers continued preparations for the Gamecocks on Wednesday, but Newton was not available for comment. He hasn't spoken to the media since Nov. 9.

Auburn coach Gene Chizik has refrained from discussing the issue in recent weeks and only made one comment following Wednesday's workout.

"I'm glad to get all that behind us, because we're focused on one thing, and that's winning the game in Atlanta," he said.

Wednesday's announcement clears a path for Newton to produce a Heisman Trophy landslide similar to ones by Miami quarterback Vinny Testaverde in 1986, Florida State quarterback Charlie Ward in 1993 and Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith in 2006. Each of those winners received more votes than the rest of the top 10 combined.