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ESPN: Newtons Talked Of Pay For Play Plan

ESPN.com posted new allegations against Auburn’s Cam Newton last night and those new allegations are not simply part of a smear campaign.

According to “two sources who recruit for Mississippi State,” Newton and his father “admitted in separate phone conversations to a pay-for-play plan while Newton was being recruited late last year.”

Joe Schad reports that MSU’s compliance department “relayed the alleged conversations to Southeastern Conference compliance officials in January, according to two other sources close to the football program.”

(Quick sidenote — It’s clear that yesterday’s academic cheating story came from someone with knowledge of Florida’s Student Conduct Committee.  Last week’s allegation and these new allegations are all stemming from folks at Mississippi State.  MSU’s Dan Mullen was on the UF campus along with Newton, of course, so it’s possible that all of these allegations are coming from MSU, including the academic cheating info.)

ESPN reports that prior to Newton’s commitment to Auburn, one of the two recruiters they spoke to said that Newton’s father, Cecil, told him it would take “more than a scholarship” for his son to sign with State.  Newton also “referred the recruiter to a third person that would provide more specifics,” according to the source.

(Another sidenote — When ESPN refers to “two sources who recruit for Mississippi State” do they mean MSU assistant coaches?  If so, why not say that?  If not, then who does MSU have recruiting for them?  We all know that third, fourth and fifth parties are involved in the recruiting of big-time prospects, but the NCAA might be interested to find out just who is contacting parents and players on the Bulldogs’ behalf.)

ESPN’s Schad also reports that after Newton signed with MSU, yet another source said “an emotional Cam Newton phoned another recruiter to express regret that he wouldn’t be going to Mississippi State, stating that his father Cecil had chosen Auburn for him because ‘the money was too much.’”

Uh-oh.  Until now, we knew that the NCAA was investigating Newton’s recruitment, but the possibility that Auburn had paid for him was only a rumor, an innuendo, a supposition.  This is the first report actually claiming straight away that Auburn offered “money” to Newton and that it “was too much” to turn down.

AU officials’ decision to stand by Newton and allow him to play in the face of this investigation shows that the athletic department believes Newton, his family and the school did nothing wrong.  Schools don’t risk forfeiting games. 

However, as we originally noted last week, it’s very difficult for a school to know exactly what’s going on between athletes and boosters, athletes and fans, athletes and ex-jocks. 

Kenny Rogers allegedly contacted John Bond (either directly or through other people).  He didn’t call Mullen or the president of MSU.  It’s likely that if Auburn’s program is in the wrong here, the wrongs were committed by people close to the program and not the actual program.  In the eyes of the NCAA, that would make very little difference.

As for ESPN’s latest bombshell, Schad uses up to five sources: “two sources who recruit for Mississippi State,” “two other sources close to the football program,” and “yet another source.”

While people can still question the honesty of the sources, it’s highly unlikely that Schad is making these folks up — as you can bet some Auburn fans will suggest.  If a reporter is found to make up a source, his career would likely be ruined.  Make up five sources and you’ll never work in dis bizness again.  So let’s fend that one off before it starts.

In other news:

* The Miami Herald has followed up on yesterday’s academic cheating story from FoxSports.com.  The University of Florida would not comment on Newton’s situation in Gainesville, “citing federal laws protecting student privacy.”  (I’m telling you, whoever leaked that info to Fox’s Thayer Evans could be facing some serious troubles.)  A UF rep did say that a student would not necessarily face expulsion.  The paper reports that UF only expels about two students per year, but that number is skewed by students who leave campus before being punished.  “There are no automatic consequences at the University of Florida,” according to the school’s representative.

* Andy Staples of SI.com writes that there is no conspiracy against Newton.  “Reporters at competing news organizations did not get together and decide to wage war on the reputation of Auburn quarterback Cam Newton.  Leads were followed.  Sources were interviewed.  Stories were written.”

True, true and true.  However, if Staples doesn’t see that yesterday’s report by FoxSports.com on academic issues (from two years ago at another school) was part of a smear campaign and had nothing to do with the player’s current NCAA predicament, well, he shouldn’t be writing for SI.com.

I’m not a big believer in conspiracy theories, myself.  But I’m also not naive enough to think that SEC fans, boosters and school officials won’t leak information in order to tear down a rival program, coach or player. 

So is there a conspiracy against Newton led by America’s journalists?  No.  But someone decided to open the floodgates on a number of allegations just as soon as Newton climbed to the top of Heisman race.  Reporters aren’t making this stuff up, but rival fans are most assuredly conspiring to tear down Newton and Auburn.

Perhaps Staples should read up on SEC history.  He’ll find that there’s a long list of programs, coaches and boosters who’ve ratted each other out.

* Mike Herndon of The Mobile Press-Register wonders if folks at Florida are behind some of the Newton mess.  “… the academic information, which is supposed to be protected by federal privacy laws, had to come from somewhere.  It didn’t fall out of the sky.  It may not have been a football coach, but it seems clear somebody with knowledge of the inner workings at UF must have leaked it.”

Herndon continues: “… the leaking of the academic allegations — an issue that affects perception more than anything else — smacks of a smear campaign, the behind-the-scenes work of someone with an ax to grind or a backside to cover.  The question, or one of many in all this, is whether anyone in Gainesville would be petty and vindictive — and possibly criminal — enough to start it.”

* According to the celebrity gossip site TMZ.com — a site that is trying to dabble in sports — the Newton investigation has now gotten the attention of the FBI.  According to the website, the FBI wants to speak to Bond to find out if “young men are being shopped to colleges.”

Bond’s attorney, Phil Abernathy, has confirmed to TMZ.com that “the FBI has requested a sit-down meeting with his client.”

 


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