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Another Black Eye For Auburn – The Latest On The Ward Case

Auburn fans are just like any other fans.  They cheer for their teams.  They spend money to follow them.  They send us ugly emails and suggest we’re fans of some other SEC team anytime we so much as mention a negative associated with their teams.

They don’t deserve what’s been tossed their way the past couple of years.  Cecil Newton asked — and he’s admitted doing so to NCAA officials — for money from Mississippi State backers in order to have his son sign with the Bulldogs.  Because Cam Newton inked, played, and thrived at Auburn, the Tigers were the target of an NCAA investigation and numerous media probes.  No smoking gun was ever found.  No bag man was ever named. 

Auburn got a black eye for nothing.  (Though the NCAA has now changed its rules as a result.)

Now Tiger fans are going to have to hunker down for yet another string of cloudy days.  Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports revealed yesterday afternoon that suspended Tiger Varez Ward and formerly suspended Tiger Chris Denson were involved in an FBI investigation into point-shaving.

Denson was found to have had no involvement and was allowed to suit up again for Tony Barbee’s squad.  The FBI still has questions for Ward regarding a pair of losses this season — an 18-point loss to Alabama and a three-point loss to Arkansas — and possibly more. 

Auburn officials have clammed up after releasing a short statement:


“Auburn officials were made aware of a rumor regarding an allegation two weeks ago and immediately reported it to the FBI, the NCAA and the SEC.  Because of the nature of the allegation, Auburn is not in a position to make any further comment on the situation.”


Barbee would only reiterate yesterday what the school had already released in its statement.

Yahoo! Sports reports that AU officials were made aware of the rumor when a current Tiger player alerted an assistant coach to his concerns.  Meanwhile, NCAA honchos have said that Auburn will likely face no penalties if it’s found that Ward — acting on his own — did shave points.  The body’s official statement:


“The NCAA takes any allegation of point shaving very seriously because sports wagering threatens two of our core principles — the well-being of student-athletes and the very integrity of intercollegiate sport.  As allegations of point shaving, if proven, are also potential federal crimes the NCAA will defer action until any process with the FBI has concluded.”


As for Ward, Al.com reports:


“Ward has privately confirmed that federal authorities have questioned him about point-shaving allegations in games he played for the Tigers this season.  He has denied those allegations, according to a source familiar with Ward’s version of events.

Ward has said that federal authorities seized his phone through a court order and questioned him with a lie-detector test, according to the source.  Ward was not aware of the current status of the investigation.”


Regarding evidence of point-shaving, Covers.com — a site focused on sports gambling — claims that managers of four different sportsbooks told the site they’d neither seen nor heard anything suspicious regarding Auburn’s program or the games in question.  In fact, AU still covered the 9.5-point spread in its loss to Arkansas.  (Ward only played 19 seconds in that game before leaving with a knee injury.)

In the Alabama loss — in which the Tide was favored by five — Ward scored just three points and turned the ball over six times.

However, directors of three Las Vegas sportsbooks told Al.com that they have not been contacted by the FBI, which is usually a given in a point-shaving case.  One anonymous bookmaker said: “We haven’t heard from them about any Vegas action.  If there is something wrong, if something happens here, they’d absolutely be involved.  There’s been nothing at this time.”

Of course, there’s still the possibility that offshore sportsbooks might have been used.

As a result of all of this, ESPN is now jumping all over the story and you can bet it will be a staple of its 24-hour news cycle.  So as Kevin Scarbinsky of The Birmingham News correctly points out: “The words ‘Auburn” and “point shaving” have been linked nationally.”

Such scandals hurt Boston College in the 1970s, Tulane in the ’80s, Arizona State and Northwestern in the ’90s.  Kentucky was given a one-year ban in 1952-53 due to point-shaving.  Then-national power CCNY saw it’s entire program start to crumble as a result of the same investigation that took down UK.

Rest assured rival coaches will use the words “Auburn” and “point-shaving” together when recruiting against the Tigers in the coming months.  All through no fault of Barbee or Auburn. 

By all accounts so far, as soon as the Tiger staff learned of the issue, they sent the info up the chain of command.  Ditto the school which — again by all accounts — quickly turned over the info to the SEC and the NCAA and the FBI.  Following the Newton scandal, AU officials probably had a good idea of how to handle such a fiasco and plenty of motivation to avoid another yet drawn-out investigation filled with innuendos.

Still, it’s Barbee’s program and its fans who will pay the price for this story coming to light in the first place.  Throw any hatred you might have for Tiger fans out the window and put yourself in their shoes.  You’d be asking, “What’d we do to deserve all this?” too.

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FBI Investigating AU’s Ward In Point-Shaving Case

So much for sitting down to watch a little of the SEC Tournament.

Yahoo! Sports is reporting that suspended Auburn point guard Varez Ward is currently under investigation by federal authorities as part of an ongoing probe into point-shaving.

Pssssssssssssssssssssssss.

That’s the air coming out of the SEC tourney balloon in New Orleans.  Mike Slive, you’ve got a new crisis to handle.  Auburn fans, well, get ready for another scandal and wall-to-wall news coverage.

Charles Robinson reports that:

“Three sources with knowledge of the case said the FBI has been investigating Ward since late February after he and guard Chris Denson were suspended by the Tigers prior to a Feb. 25 home game against Arkansas.  Two sources said Denson was also questioned as part of the point-shaving investigation, but he was cleared of any wrongdoing and returned to the team after sitting out the loss to the Razorbacks.  The sources said additional players have been questioned in the case about whether Ward — who has not been with the team since being suspended — attempted to enlist them in a possible scheme.  The sources said at least two games are under scrutiny: a 68-50 loss to Alabama on Feb. 7 and a 56-53 loss to Arkansas on Jan. 25.”

Ward is a native of Montgomery and transferred into Barbee’s program after beginning his career at Texas.

Oddly enough, we earlier today linked you to a story from The Opelika-Auburn News in which Tony Barbee talked about the state of his program and the improvements made since his first season.  Whether it’s his fault or not, the words “point-shaving scandal” will be attached to his squad until the FBI’s investigation into Ward concludes… and perhaps even after depending on what they find.

ESPN has not always rushed to report stories broken first by other parties — namely Yahoo! Sports which is becoming the sports version of Woodward and Bernstein at this point.  With ESPN partnering with the league — via it’s “SEC Network” syndication package — to air this week’s tournament, it will be interesting to see and hear just how much time the network dedicates to covering this new hurricane-sized cloud that hangs over Auburn and the Southeastern Conference.

All that said, Tiger fans are well aware that accusations don’t always result in players being found guilty when it comes to buzz-creating scandals.  But when you add the words “point-shaving” and “FBI” together, there aren’t a whole lot of reasons to expect a positive outcome in this one.

The folks at the Federal Bureau of Investigation don’t need Danny Sheridan to come forward with a bag man to help them with their work.

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Writer: MSU Fans Still Concerned About Newton Situation

Brad Locke of The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal expects a lot of questions at next week’s SEC Media Days to focus on college football’s “underbelly.”  But in his latest column he also writes the following regarding what he believes to be an ongoing fear that there’s still another shoe to drop when it comes to former Auburn quarterback — and Mississippi State recruit — Cam Newton:


“As far as MSU fans are concerned, I sense there is a lingering worry regarding the Cam Newton saga.  While MSU has not had its integrity impugned during this affair, more revelations could come to light.”


True.  Rumors of those FBI wiretaps are still floating around the internet.  There are still those who claim the Newtons did receive cash from someone.

But after nearly a year’s worth of digging no media source or private dick hired by an enraged Bama backer has pinned the cash on the quarterback, it’s hard to imagine something new popping up now.  And if something does come out, it’s doubtful that State will be the school being implicated.

Still, it’s interesting that a Newton’s name can still — apparently — send shivers down the spines of some SEC football fans.

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Website Challenges Newton To Pass Lie Detector

Perhaps once Cam Newton is drafted in the first few slots of Thursday’s NFL draft he’ll become “just another guy.”  For now, however, the Heisman-winning quarterback is still the subject of tons of speculation and a lot of bizarre side stories.  Take this one:

As Jeff Schultz of The AJC points out, a website called CamNewtonLieDetector.com is offering $1 million to Newton if he can pass a lie detector test offering up the “4 Questions College Football Fans Want Answered.”

Those questions are:


1.  Prior to signing with Auburn, were you aware your father was “shopping” you to Mississippi State or any other school?

2.  Did you tell Dan or Meghan Mullen that you signed with Auburn because of the money because you truly believed Auburn had paid for your commitment?

3.  Did anyone on the Auburn coaching staff/athletic department instruct you how to answer questions from the NCAA by lying or avoiding the truth?

4.  Did you or your family ever receive any impermissible benefits from Auburn?


The site is owned anonymously by someone in Felton, Delaware.  (You don’t think the owner’s a Bama expat, do you?  Nah.)

The site’s homepage quotes ESPN’s Chris Low as saying “It’s a season that will forever have an asterisk attached to it.”  Under that line, the site posts:


*Remove that askerisk and legitimize your place and Auburn’s in college football history.


But here’s the thing — After all of the accusations, innuendos, alleged audio tapes, alleged FBI wire taps, etc, etc… if the NCAA doesn’t find any hard evidence of actual wrongdoing, Newton’s career will be legitimized.  If there’s no proof that Newton or his family took any money from Auburn or anyone else, then the former SEC star won’t need a lie detector test to legitimize his place in college football history.

He’ll have weathered the greatest investigative journalism dig in 21st century sports media.

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Report: NCAA Still Investigating Newton, But No Bombshells Are Expected

Never say never. 

When it comes to NCAA investigations, the most dangerous thing to do is to convince yourself that nothing will come of a probe into your favorite program.  As long as NCAA snoops are snooping, dirt can still be found.

That said, the fact that assistant coaches like Gus Malzahn and Jeff Grimes elected to stay at Auburn rather than jump ship and head for new jobs tells us that AU’s staff feels pretty certain that they did no wrong (or won’t get caught) in the Cam Newton affair. 

Also, for all the rumors and messageboard rambles linking Newton to Auburn boosters and slush funds via secret FBI recordings, well, no one with any credibility has drawn a line from A to B to C just yet.  All that smoke could be coming from rival fans’ smoke machines, rather than an actual fire on The Plains.

Kevin Scarbinsky of The Birmingham News reports today that his sources say the NCAA is still digging away, but that no bombshells are expected.


“According to people with reason to know, the NCAA is still conducting an active investigation into Auburn’s recruitment of Newton.  There is an enforcement staff official assigned to the case, and that person is turning over every rock to make sure the NCAA doesn’t get blindsided down the road.

Auburn fans won’t like that information.  Some of them won’t believe it.  they’ll be joined in their displeasure or disbelief by fans of other schools who read this nugget: The bomb is not about to drop.

According to those same well-informed sources, the NCAA has yet to discover or uncover new information that would wipe out Auburn’s national championship season.”


The takeaway: Don’t buy into every comment posted by TideRUs, Dawgface or BayouBozo on your nearest messageboard. 

The NCAA might eventually uncover some shady dealings between AU and the Newtons.  Again, never say never.  But “Gotcha Day” hasn’t come yet.  And contrary to the rumor mill, that day really isn’t close at hand, either.

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State Of Mississippi Gets In On The Newton Investigation Industry

Thayer Evans of FoxSports.com is reporting that Mississippi State booster Bill Bell was interviewed last Wednesday by the Mississippi secretary of state’s office as part of its investigation into former MSU player Kenny Rogers.

As you know:


* Rogers now says — after initially issuing denials — that he tried to help Cecil Newton procure $100,000 to $180,000 from State boosters for his son’s signature on an MSU letter of intent.

* Bell — who also played at MSU — says that he was approached by Rogers and that he spoke (more than twice, less than a “handful” of times) with the elder Newton.

* Evans is the writer who claims Newton was on the verge of being booted from the University of Florida after numerous charges of academic cheating had been brought against him.  A criminal investigation could result from Evans’ “academic cheating” story (meaning: Who leaked Newton’s federally protected academic records to Evans?).


A source tells Evans that Mississippi officials (the state, not the school) are “investigating whether Rogers violated state agent laws by acting as an intermediary between Bell and Newton’s father.”

The NCAA and FBI are also investigating Newton’s recruitment.  The NCAA wants to know if Newton (or a representative for the quarterback) solicited or received payment for his signature.  The FBI, presumably, wants to know if any money changed hands illegally — laundered cash, across state lines, via phone/wire fraud, etc.  Now the state of Mississippi is targeting Rogers.

Amazingly, Newton could come out of this smelling like a rose while everyone around him — including those who tried to rat his papa out — could face legal issues of their own.

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Newton Saga: Lawyers Speak, No Wire Taps Tying Booster To Player

The attorney who said he represents “the Newton family and particularly Cam Newton” told WSB-TV in Atlanta today that the quarterback did not take any money during his recruitment.

“No money has been offered to Cam,” George Lawson said.  “Cam Newton hasn’t asked for money.  I don’t think there’s any question that Cam Newton knew nothing about any money discussions, if any discussions were had.”

That’s an interesting comment for an attorney who sort of represents Cecil Newton to make.  Note, he did not deny the possibility that discussions might have taken place.  More on this below.

Lawson said that both of Cam’s parents have met with NCAA investigators and “been truthful and candid with the NCAA and will continue to cooperate with the NCAA and will produce and answer any and all questions that the NCAA has for them.”

Lawson also said he knows “nothing” about the FBI’s investigation.  “I don’t even know if the FBI is investigating (Newton’s recruitment).  I’ve had the occasion to see probably the same thing that you saw on ESPN.  That’s all I know about it.”

The Newtons’ attorney also discussed the leak of Cam’s academic records to Thayer Evans of FoxSports.com.  “Cam Newton’s grades and academic standings at the University of Florida are protected matters.  And to the extent that the University of Florida has violated a federal statute, I have some understanding of what the University of Florida’s address is and at some appropriate time they’ll hear from me.”

When asked if there will be legal action against UF — what else would he mean by the above statement? — Lawson said, “I’m not suggesting what it will be, but the University of Florida will hear from me.  If the University of Floirda has disclosed unlawfully Cam’s personal and private records then I will be talking to the University of Florida about that.”

Lawson also said that the reports regarding Newton’s alleged cheating at UF were “not accurate.”  “He’s a very polished, he’s a very smart young man and at this point in his life he’s a very mature young man.  He’s much more mature than most 21-year-olds would be with all that he’s going through in his life.”

He added: “I am one million percent confident that Cam Newton took no money from no one.”

You can read more of the Q&A session with Lawson here.

As for discussions regarding money, the attorney for Kenny Rogers confirmed to The Jackson Clarion-Ledger today the pay-for-play plan for Newton.

“We are unequivocally saying that the entire thing was solicited by Cecil Newton and, unfortunately, (Rogers) stupidly became a rubber hose and passed it along.” Doug Zeit said.  “That’s what (Rogers) did.  (He) never asked for money, other than what Cecil Newton wanted and how he wanted it.”

Yesterday, former MSU player Bill Bell said that he received a text from Rogers outlining a three-tiered payment plan for the Newton family.  Zeit said, “(Rogers) said that’s what (Cecil) Newton wanted me to send and that’s what I sent.”

Zeit also confirmed that three-way phone calls between Rogers, Bell and the elder Newton did take place just as Bell has said.  In his words, there were “not even a handful (of calls)… a couple.”

On another front, those messageboard rumors suggesting Auburn booster and recently-arrested casino-owner Milton McGregor was dragged into the Newton mess through wiretaps are apparently false.  (Shocking.)

According to “multiple sources familiar with the statehouse reports,” The Birmingham News reported today that “wiretaps made as part of the recent federal investigation into vote-buying in the Alabama Legislature contain no conversations that connect Victoryland owner Milton McGregor to quarterback Cam Newton’s recruitment to Auburn.”

TMZ.com reported yesterday that FBI agents had brought up McGregor’s name to someone they interviewed in the Newton case.  McGregor’s attorney denied that his client had had any connections to the Newtons or Cam’s recruitment.


Sidenote — Anybody else as sick of the name “Cam Newton” as I am?

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Kaboom! The Cam Newton Story Blows Up Again (UPDATED)

This week had been relatively quiet on the Cam Newton investigation front.

Word came out that John Bond had met with the FBI.  Then word leaked that Kenny Rogers had met with the NCAA.  Nothing big there.  Nothing unexpected.

But yesterday afternoon, the floodgates opened and wave after wave of new allegations and rumors emerged.  Rogers’ attorney told the press that his client wasn’t pointing a finger at Mississippi State or Auburn, but at Cecil Newton.  TMZ.com ran with word that an Auburn booster by the name of Milton McGregor has been somehow connected to the story by the FBI agents questioning a person in their own Newton investigation.  And messageboard rumors have now hit the web on sports blogs.

Let’s catch you up on the basics:

* Mississippi State booster and former player Bill Bell told ESPN — and the NCAA — that he had actually received a text message from his former teammate Rogers detailing the payment plan that Cecil Newton wanted followed.  Bell is trying to retrieve the text message… as his cell phone has suffered water damage.  (Think Auburn fans buy that one?)  Bell also claims to have voice mail messages from Rogers regarding Newton’s recruitment.

* “I’ve never been involved in paying anything for a player,” Bell said.  “I’m not that big of a booster.”  (I don’t think that came out right because it makes it sound like MSU does have some boosters who are big enough to buy players.)  “I told Kenny that Coach Mullen was personally handling the recruitment of Cam Newton and no one was going to pay them any money.  Kenny said, ‘Well, how about $100,000?’”

* As for Rogers, Bell defended his old teammate.  “It was probably three phone calls or so before Kenny said, ‘They’re going to want money.’  It just seemed like he didn’t know what he was doing, like it was the first time he’d ever done something like that.  I really believe it was Mr. Newton asking Kenny to do it.  I don’t think it was Kenny’s idea.”

* In potentially bad news for MSU, Bell did talk to the elder Newton.  Boosters aren’t supposed to actively recruit for a school — though it happens and we all know it does.  Bell says that MSU officials told him to stop talking to Newton and Rogers.  He says he never spoke with the younger Newton.

* According to The Jackson Clarion-Ledger, MSU officials would not comment on Bell’s comments or ESPN’s latest story.

* Yesterday afternoon, messageboard fodder turned into actual news — sort of — when websites across the internet began running with McGregor/Bobby Lowder stories.  McGregor is a casino-owner in Alabama who gave $1 million for the construction of the new Auburn Arena in 2008.  He was recently arrested for allegedly attempting to buy votes.  Lowder has long been one of Auburn’s — and the SEC’s — biggest boosters.  Federal investigations into McGregor and Lowder’s failed Colonial Bank have reportedly — according to some messageboarders — turned up dirt relating to AU’s football program.

* The attorney for McGregor denied TMZ.com’s report that linked him to the Newton mess.  According to his attorney: “Contrary to postings on celebrity and sports blogs, Milton McGregor has never had any contact direct or indirect with Cam Newton, Cecil Newton — Cam’s father, Kenny Rogers, or anyone purporting to represent Cam Newton.  Mr.  McGregor has never been asked to provide money for any recruitment or compensation of any current or perspective student-athlete including Cam Newton at Auburn or any other school, and has never provided any type of compensation in that regard period no exceptions.  As a proud supporter of Auburn University Mr. McGregor wants it known that he does cheer loudly for Cam Newton and he thinks he is the best athlete in college football.”  That press release reads as though it was written by a kid fresh out of law school.  It likely doesn’t help McGregor’s image one iota.

* The Birmingham News reports that to date, no one has said that Cam Newton has been involved in any shady dealings.  Well, not exactly.  Last week, ESPN.com’s Joe Schad reported that — according to a source — the quarterback phoned an MSU 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.’” 

* At this point, that appears to be the key to the NCAA’s investigation.  Sources have said that Cecil Newton has admitted that he talked about shopping his son.  The same source claims Newton denied that his son had any knowledge of the plan.  If Newton did solicit cash from MSU boosters — and those boosters are certainly coming clean about that now — then an NCAA violation has occurred.  However, the NCAA could be lenient in the case if it believes Cam Newton was an innocent bystander.  If the NCAA can find an MSU “recruiter” to corroborate Schad’s source’s account and admit that the player did talk about “the money,” then the final nail in this saga could be driven home.  Again, that’s if the NCAA can find someone to corroborate.

* Earlier this week, NCAA officials went to the Alabama campus to speak with former MSU — and current Bama — graduate assistant Jody Wright.  Wright was at State during Newton’s recruitment and could possibly maybe be the person Cam Newton allegedly spoke to.

* Back to the Bell/payment angle of the story for a second.  Bell claims that he told NCAA investigators about Newton’s payment plan last week.  That information — and possibly Newton’s own sit-down session with the NCAA — might have led the NCAA to inform Auburn last Friday that there were potential eligibility issues regarding Newton.  Auburn chose to play Newton against Georgia anyway.

* The website SportsByBrooks.com believes Auburn’s decision to suit Newton up shows “that Auburn is betting that the NCAA thinks prominent Florida businessman Bell and Kenny Rogers is lying and WSB-TV, which last Friday reported that Cecil Newton ‘admitted having conversations with an ex-Mississippi State University player about the possibility of under-the-table money if Cam Newton signed to play football at Mississippi State,’ is wrong.”  Well, not necessarily.  Another interpretation might be what we wrote above… and will expand upon below:

1.  At this point, it appears that there are solid goods on Cecil Newton.  Everyone is now surrendering details about his payment plan to the NCAA, the FBI and the press.

2.  While an NCAA spokesperson has said that anyone acting on Cam Newton’s behalf in an illegal way — even without the player’s knowledge — would put his eligibility in question… it’s possible that the NCAA can show leniency if it believes the player was innocent.

3.  Auburn could be betting that the NCAA will not find any actual dirt on Cam Newton or anyone connected to AU.  At this point, what do they have to lose?  The school is all in.  So it’s possible they know/believe Cecil is guilty and are still banking on his son remaining eligible due to his own innocence.

FOR A LOOK AT WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN NEXT…
Read the rest of this entry »

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TMZ: Newton Probe Expands To Auburn Booster

TMZ.com is an entertainment gossip site first and foremost. 

That said, TMZ reported this afternoon that the FBI investigation into Cam Newton’s recruitment “now involves a guy who gave more than $1 million to Auburn University… and was recently arrested in a bribery sting.”

The website reports:


“According to sources connected to the probe… FBI agents looking into the Newton recruiting controversy are also asking about Milton McGregor — a dog track owner arrested last month for allegedly bribing Alabama politicians to vote pro gambling.

“We’re told agents asked someone connected to the Newton case if he was familiar with McGregor or the bribery scandal. 

“It’s unclear what, if any, direct connection McGregor has to Newton.”


McGregor gave a million dollar donation to Auburn for it’s new basketball arena in 2008.  His attorneys have asked a federal judge to throw out all 17 of the charges made against him in the bribery case.  McGregor is accused of vote-buying.

As always, stay tuned…

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Attorney confirms former Mississippi State player John Bond met with FBI in Cam Newton Affair

 

 



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