Cam Newton, Auburn University’s electric quarterback and clear cut favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, has bludgeoned defenses throughout the South Eastern Conference with his legs and his arm since arriving from junior college. Of course, in today’s sports, there can never be a feel good story. There’s rarely a transcendent athlete that doesn’t come without scandal or baggage. We’re discovering hourly that Newton has all the baggage in the world. And maybe, just maybe, his family now has all the money it would take to have all that baggage checked.
Whether feeling scorned for missing out on an incredible talent, or simply taking the moral high ground in a system where the moral high ground reaches ant hill heights, Mississippi State has claimed that Newton chose not to go to school there because Newton’s father told them there would be a price. A steep price. It came out November 10 on espn.com that Auburn allegedly met all or part of that price. It also seems, if any or all of this is true, that Newton is a victim of a family member looking out for No. 1. Sadly, again if this story is true, a father chose himself over his son.
This shouldn’t surprise anyone. It’s one of dozens of similar stories that have surfaced in a media storm that never slows down. The days of back room deals and shadily bought scholarships are nearing an end. Sooner or later it seems everything gets uncovered. In today’s Blackberry-driven, computer crazy age there are thousands of media outlets. If the big boys from ESPN aren’t digging up the dirt, Internet blogs like Deadspin specialize in finding the crumbs that athletes sweep under the rug. Even sports these days are tabloid. Stories are bought and sold for a price. TMZ even dips its crooked but ever watchful eye toward athletes. And why wouldn’t they? Sports, now more than ever, are entertainment.
This isn’t about whether indiscretions have taken place. This story needs to shift gears. It needs to be about action. It needs to be about changing a system with dirty little secrets hiding behind just about every major college football and basketball program, and probably some other sports as well. Between Newton, the Reggie Bush USC scandal, the North Carolina University defense, and former sports agent www.usatoday.com/sports/college/football/2010-10-12-sports-illustrated-luchs-agent-paid-players_N.htm”Josh Luchs’ story of paying dozens and dozens of college football players throughout the 90s, it’s apparent that this snowball is rolling. In today’s media, when a snowball starts rolling it rarely stops.
So who’s responsible? Are the players responsible for policing themselves and their families? We’re getting into some serious morality issues here. I had a friend who in the early 90s was sought by every major college football program in the nation. His five official visits were Penn State, Miami, Alabama, USC and Notre Dame. If you know anything about college football, you know after reading those five names that he was highly coveted. He was never offered any money, and if he were, knowing his family, he would have stricken that school off his list. But through that limited sample, it occurs to me that these demands come from the players and their families, and with turned heads they are referred to a guy who knows a guy who knows the booster that will make those demands come true. It’s an ignorance is bliss process, and that’s just the recruiting half. We won’t extend this article a dozen paragraphs talking about agents pining after these players while they’re in school.
All of this begs the question: would paying college athletes help quell this activity? Would it help the athlete coming from distressed financial situations convince their greedy or desperate parents and uncles and pastors to ease off and let their favorite athlete get by on a stipend coming from the school? The answer to this question is no. It will never be enough. There are people in this world who will always want more and a small stipend from a school will not stop improprieties when dollar values like $200,000 (in the Newton case) are being discussed.
If you pay the college football player, or basketball player, does the women’s swim team athlete get the same? Would it be broken down in correlation to the revenue that the individual sport brings in? And if that’s the case, does the Tulsa Golden Hurricane get the same amount of stipend as the Miami Hurricane? What about a starter as opposed to a bench player? Should Cam Newton get more than the senior scholarship kicker who just lost his job because he missed his last four extra points?
Sure, there is money to go around. College athletics and the NCAA are a billion dollar business. And let’s call a spade a spade, it is nothing but a business. All of education is. But some businesses are more powerful than others. If the stipends allocated to players on one NCAA team are more than others based on some sort of power structure, then you’ll have agents going after these kids in high school and suddenly the New York Yankees of college football are born because that’s where the money is.
There are no clear cut answers to this issue, but here is mine. The NCAA investigative team can not keep up with every issue. There is pressure. When something hits the news wires and becomes a story, those investigators are forced to deal with that issue and everything else goes to the back burner. By the time they find out Johnny Appleseed took a tractor for his daddy’s farm and got some cash from an agent to keep him going through college with the promise of signing with him later, Johnny is in his 5th NFL season and getting ready to sign a multi-million dollar contract extension.
Take every dollar that anyone ever thought to allocate in a plan that included paying players and reissue that money to grow the investigative department of the NCAA. Currently, teams take the brunt of the punishment when indiscretions occur. USC is currently paying for Reggie Bush’s actions. Why is it a senior o-lineman at USC’s problem that some kid who left school four years ago took money? It’s completely unfair to the kids doing it right.
Agents need to be punished first. Three year complete suspension of any dealings with the NFL if one violation is proven. Ten years for a second. Lifetime ban for a third. Nobody will sign with an agent that can’t negotiate their contract for them.
After that, it’s on the players themselves. These problems are not going to go away, but there needs to be something in place to deter a player or his family to take money and gifts. Detriments such as a 3-year suspension from the NFL before the player even goes to his first training camp if that player is proven guilty of a base level violation with the NCAA.
I would like to watch college football again without having to hear these incessant stories. I would like kids, and that’s what they are, be allowed to be kids again, to have a college experience without the big business pressure. The backdrop of the upcoming Alabama-Auburn game shouldn’t be whether any of it is going to mean anything if Cam Newton isn’t eligible. But sadly, we know what the big story that day will be.