There has been a lot written on the ongoing Cam Newton saga; a lot of he said, she said and back and forth between Newton’s own camp and a growing group of individuals who claim that his father created a pay for pay scenario for his own son. The story has been on the airwaves and its specific elements have been talked to death so I will not focus on the minutia behind the story. The greater concern, I think, is the potentially devastating impact that it could have on College Football if Newton continues to play, wins the Heisman Trophy, and leads Auburn to a National Championship.
I have seen a lot of messy sports stories over the years but the Reggie Bush Saga was easily the worst. Bush was electrifying as a young USC running back and he oozed professional potential even as he won the Heisman Trophy and the Trojans rode him to a National Title. Yet, the saga following the investigation of his various violations of NCAA code was excruciating and the college football world was forced to watch as the NCAA chose to crucify the nation's most illustrious football program.
The Cam Newton Saga promises to be much, much worse.Before delving into why that is, it is important to make one thing clear: Newton has not been confirmed guilty. The investigation, and all the tit for tat surrounding it, remains ongoing and the ultimate resolution remains unclear. However, he certainly looks very guilty and, if history is any guide, that fact will become clear quite soon. There are simply too many people from several different schools who have confirmed Newton's fathers' clumsy scheme and the fact that several of those people have agreed to cooperate with both the NCAA and the FBI is damning.
Thanks to IllegalShift from Flickr.com for this great picture of Cam Newton.
Knowing that his eligibility is in question and he is shrouded in controversy, Auburn's coach Gene Chizik should opt to sit him and protect his program at all costs. Of course, Chizik is enjoying a measure of success he has never sniffed at any other point in his career so there is little chance of that happening. As a result, the consequences of this process threaten to be pervasive and debilitating: affecting not only Newton himself, Auburn, and the SEC but also the Heisman Trophy and the very foundations of college football.
In the wake of the Reggie Bush scandal, I wrote a piece entitled, Should we Pay our College Athletes? which questioned the basic assumptions that underpin college football. At the lowest, most foundational level, college football is, and always has been, different from the professional game because it is a game played by amateurs. It is about athletics for athletics sake and the spirit of the game; playing for ones school, classmates, and pride rather than ones' checkbook. However, as the Bush and Newton sagas make painfully obvious, this is increasingly becoming an illusion. College football is now a business pure and simple and the only people not making money on the game are the players. That situation is unsustainable and these two cases are the first major cracks: Bush and Newton are top talents from poor backgrounds who wanted to use their talents to get in on the game a bit early. Whether you blame them or not, it is impossible to deny that they won't be the last players to take that step.
Auburn's Cam Newton holds up his 2010 Heisman trophy at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. Thanks to Chris Pusateri for this photo.
Of course, the difference between the Bush and Newton scandals is that Bush's mistakes were laid bare five years after the fact. As bad as the furor was in 2010, it was not nearly as bad as it would have been had Bush been exposed while he was competing for the title. That is exactly what is happening to Newton right now: college football fans are watching a likely ineligible player lead the Heisman race and direct his team to a national title appearance. And it is that knowledge, and the greater realities about the college game that it exposes, that threatens to shake the game to its foundations.
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