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Unless you've coming out of a coma this morning (watch out for the zombies), you know by now that ESPN and the New York Times went public last night with allegations that an "street agent" runner had solicited Mississippi State for $200,000 (minus a $20,000 "hometown discount") as the purported terms for Cam Newton's signature on a national letter of intent. The story was floated by former MSU quarterback John Bond; the runner is an old teammate of Bond's, a character named Kenny Rogers, who despite his handle, apparently doesn't have much of a grasp of when to hold and/or fold them.
That's really it. ESPN's Pat Forde, Chris Lowe and Mark Schablach, along with the Times' Pete Thamel, don't make any overt accusations against either Auburn or the Newtons, although both sling around innuendo suggesting that Cecil Newton, a minister and bishop, came into some extra cash he needed to repair an Atlanta-area church he's responsible for. The senior Newton firmly denied all the allegations when contacted, and says he willingly turned over his personal and church financial records to the NCAA when asked earlier this year. A local news report published in September 2009, months before Auburn ever contacted or began recruiting Newton, indicates the money for the church renovation was already "in-hand" at that time.
By halftime of last night's Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech game, ESPN was already backtracking on the innuendo; Forde himself eventually admitted that he knew of no evidence implicating Auburn in wrongdoing. For Auburn's part, the athletic department and Gene Chizik both released brief statements declaring that Newton has been and remains eligible to play at AU.
Those statements, while short, are significant. Auburn's current compliance department isn't known for either leniency or looking the other way-just ask new basketball coach Tony Barbee, who nearly walked away from his job entirely last month because of the onerous terms that department had added to his contract.
Multiple reports since the story broke indicate that Auburn has been fully aware of the Kenny Rogers allegations since early last summer, and I feel very safe in saying that if there were any chance of Auburn being implicated in any rule-breaking in this case, Cam Newton would never have put on a Tiger uniform this year. The guys in that office just would not take that kind of a chance-and not because they have any particular love for Auburn University. Sheer careerism on their parts would move them to declare Newton ineligible at the first sign of any potential violations.
Institutionally, Auburn obviously wants to win football games, but the idea that the entire AU administrative apparatus would play Newton with foreknowledge of serious violations-remember, this stuff was known to AU, the SEC and NCAA as far back as July-doesn't stand up to the smell test. You couldn't get that many people to burn their careers over one guy, not matter how many yards he might gain one day.