Do fame and success mean you get to play by different rules?
That’s surely not what we want to teach our kids. But, unfortunately, the answer is clearly “yes” at times. And we just saw it happen again in big-time college athletics.
As the enforcer of rules in college sports, the NCAA has always seemed very interested in sending messages. Numerous schools have faced severe penalties for violations over the years. When the NCAA came down heavily on Southern Cal recently, the message was loud and clear: keep your act together. Don’t let anyone associated with your university soil things by seeking pay for play. If you do, we’ll hurt you. We’ll strip you of scholarships and bowl eligibility.
When A.J. Green sold his Independence Bowl jersey on eBay for $1,000, he was sidelined for a third of the season. The message was clear: there is zero tolerance for players making a buck off their fame while still in a college uniform.
O.K., so what message is the NCAA sending now with Cameron Newton? Innocent until proven guilty, you say? Well, the NCAA confirmed that Newton’s father sought money for his son’s signature on a scholarship. The NCAA subsequently said that there was no proof that the younger Newton knew what his father was doing. Therefore, Newton was eligible to play.
This amazes me. Here’s a situation where the underbelly of college athletics comes to the surface in a really audacious and verified way. We all know there is pay for play going on. But it’s rarely ever confirmed. But in this case, the NCAA verifies that the elder Newton sought a payoff. Yet, the NCAA says there’s nothing in their bylaws that prohibits Newton from playing. Here’s a question: Did the elder Newton claim the younger Newton as a dependent on his tax returns this past year? If so, I don’t see how you can separate the two as a fiscal entity. But I haven’t heard anyone address this.
Anyway, we can all see it coming. The NCAA will establish a rule in the offseason that prohibits parents from prostituting their kids to recruiters for a big payday. Oh, what a terrible thing for a parent to do, they’ll say. If only we had a rule in place last year to punish such action, then we could have sent a message. That’s utter hogwash.
Even if the NCAA steps in and strips Newton of the Heisman and Auburn of a national championship, that will be a joke. They want the national championship payday themselves. And their actions ensured that they’ll get it.
Here’s what should have happened: the NCAA should have, upon verifying that the elder Newton sought a payoff, declared the younger Newton ineligible. If the NCAA wanted to send a message to the nation that they expect people to play by the rules, that no parent can prostitute their kid for a payday, what better way than by demanding that when all eyes are watching? What better way to create an environment of abidance to the rules?
Instead, they’ve opened the door for an environment of pure dirtiness. This is a real Pandora’s box. The NCAA’s ruling means that every parent of every talented kid in the country is now free to seek a big payoff for their son’s signature. They can even tell their son of their plans. They just can’t record themselves telling their son of the pay scheme.
The NCAA’s leniency on the high-profile pay-for-play plot seems even more bizarre, given that it comes from the same nitpicky entity that enforces an ever-changing, thick manual of rules that require universities to hire compliance officers to ensure things are done correctly. The NCAA is extremely specific about when, where and how coaches can talk to recruits, what can and can’t be paid for by a school, when a coach can or can’t attend a funeral, etc. Any misstep on the vast collection of rules can be grounds for serious punishment.
Right now, the football recruiting wars are hot and heavy. Signing day is in early February. Teams are fighting for players’ commitments. So, what’s to keep the mom or dad of a big shot running back from seeking a payoff from a booster? Hey, Cam Newton’s dad did it. If you want my son to play, you better pay. How can the NCAA argue with that? Any dad can say he never told his son. A precedent has been set. And the NCAA has sent its inglorious message to the nation, which is this: “Just don’t tape it.”
Well, like I said, they’ll pass a rule against such action shortly after the season, but will they grandfather in any violations that occur right now before such a rule is set? Well, they should.
But really, rules aren’t the issue right now. Money is. For the NCAA, “the money is just too good.” They can’t pursue Newton. The NCAA is content to watch the dollars roll in as the big-time star leads the high-powered Tigers against the nation’s other high-octane offense in Oregon.
It appears rules only matter when those who make and enforce them care enough, which is always less likely when there’s big money on the line. So, for now, all of us disgusted by the Cam Newton pay plot just have to watch him smile. He is truly amazing, perhaps the best I’ve ever seen. But all the commentators seem intent on serving as apologists for Newton. “Look at him smile, look at him run,” they say. “How could anybody think he knew what dirtiness his dad was up to in his name?”
Of course, Newton will soon earn a fortune. And his legacy will most likely include a Heisman trophy and a national championship.
But I’ll never hear his name without feeling really cynical about the sport I love and the people who are charged with enforcing fairness in it. “Cam Newton” — a name that will always remind me that there are certain people who will always play by different rules.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.
The facts of a situation might mess up an interesting article, but let's look at them anyway. You state that the NCAA confirmed that Newton's father sought money for signing a scholarship. Assuming that's true did any college pay Mr. Newton? Do we have any proof that the son Cam knew of scheme. If the answer to either one of those questions was yes, Cam Newton would be suspended. Unless you have information of either a payoff or Cam's knowledge of the father's scheme he can't nor should he be suspended. What would stop an opposing school from getting intouch with an estranged father of a football player and giving him money to get the son suspended from the opposing school? Look at facts and you will be less likely to be amazed.
12/21/10 at 12:56 PM