The Cam Newton story keeps chugging along. It seems like every few hours, there’s a new allegation or twist in the various things we’re told this young athlete (or his representatives) did during his recruitment. The latest: Joe Schad’s report that Cam and Cecil Newton (his father) told recruiters for Mississippi State about wanting payment. Key quote: Cam Newton allegedly called a recruiter and said his father had picked Auburn because “the money was too much.”
This thing has spiralled out of control, insofar as the story/stories surrounding Newton are wrapped up in the ever-snowballing series of allegations, rebuttals, counter-allegations and hedged denials that give these things legs. Now the FBI is reportedly getting involved. Deadspin has a solid roundup of where things stand right now.
The things that matter: Pay-for-play deals that were floated for Newton to sign with colleges, and a pay-for-play deal that got him to Auburn. The things that don’t: Academic cheating.
But what matters and what doesn’t becomes irrelevant when the circus becomes bigger than the story. Investigations like these take a long, long time (the inquiry into Reggie Bush took four years). Unless the NCAA, the SEC or anybody else finds something conclusive between now and January, it won’t impact Newton’s eligibility to play college ball. He will be allowed to play in a BCS bowl or the championship game, win the Heisman and keep playing football. The only problem is that voters just saw a Heisman revoked for the first time, and a lot of them are going to have to give their votes extra thought knowing the cloud surrounding Newton. (Though numerous voters say it doesn’t matter.)
Lost in all of this hullabaloo is the young man who is playing football and being looked at under a microscope because he’s playing better than anyone else right now. I’m not saying the allegations are irrelevant (except for the cheating one, which stinks more of character assassination intended to add to the negative perception rather than anything else, and yes, it seems certain that had to be leaked by someone, somewhere at the University of Florida). If it’s true, there should be sanctions, penalties and that will be that, because the rules are the rules. But because this is happening now — as opposed to nine months after the Heisman ceremony — there’s somebody who is seeing their actual life altered and potentially damaged due to speculation, whispers and uncertainty. What if he loses the Heisman? What if he comes back next year and isn’t that good, so NFL scouts decide to drop him on their boards because of the “character” thing? This could adversely impact his life down the road.
And all of that being said, there’s the other aspect nobody seems to be giving much thought: Of course players are paid. Not all of them, and not necessarily in six figure signing bonuses, but maybe with cars or other perks, but anybody who thinks that college football and college basketball are operated entirely and 100 percent by the rules is insane. Not just because of the numerous documented instances where someone has skirted the rules. Schools make huge amounts of money profiting off of the players who are supposed to play for free (i.e. “an education”). Alabama made $38 million in profit in 2008, and they didn’t even win the title. Schools sell tickets, advertisements, gear and reap countless benefits from winning programs. There is big money here. It’s preposterous that the student athletes aren’t allowed their cut.