- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Here’s hoping the slap on Cecil Newton’s wrist really stung. Then maybe he’ll remember it next time he tries to sell a son to the highest bidder in college football.

Most likely it didn’t. Because the only punishment Cam Newton’s father got for peddling his son like a piece of meat was a public scolding and perhaps the loss of some choice seats in the SEC championship game.

Cam Newton made off even better. Thanks to the crackerjack sleuths at the NCAA, he’ll be behind center for Auburn in this weekend’s game with not a thing to worry about other than beating South Carolina to clinch a spot in the BCS title game.

The masterminds behind the BCS cartel have to like that. With Newton playing, there’s one less chance that an interloper like TCU can play its way into a title game they have so carefully reserved for schools with more pedigree.

And later this month Newton will be in New York City, where the guardians of the Heisman Trophy can give him his award with less fear that one day they will have to ask for it back.

Hard to accuse the NCAA of bungling this one. In the space of just a few days, they restored order to the top echelon of college football just when it seemed a festering mess might drag Newton down and the second-ranked Tigers along with him.

It was all nicely tied up and packaged with a big bow Wednesday for Auburn, a day after the university had oh-so-quietly declared Newton ineligible and then asked for his reinstatement. The NCAA obliged, saying that while it discovered a pay-for-play scheme it did “not have sufficient evidence that Cam Newton or anyone from Auburn was aware of this activity.”

The timing was peculiar enough, coming just days before Auburn’s biggest game of the year. Even more peculiar is that while the NCAA cleared Cam Newton of wrongdoing, it did not declare the case closed.

That could prove awfully embarrassing should further evidence emerge down the road about Cecil Newton’s alleged scheme last year to get up to $180,000 for his son to play at Mississippi State. Cam Newton signed with Auburn a month after visiting Mississippi State, and it would be hard to find a fan in Starkville who doesn’t believe Auburn simply upped the offer for the star quarterback.

But until a video of a booster handing Cecil Newton a suitcase filled with $100 bills surfaces, Auburn gets the benefit of the doubt, even if officials at the university have never directly addressed the payment issue.

Cam Newton has to be believed, too, even if it’s hard to fathom he never knew his father was shopping him around. He’s certainly played like a quarterback with a clean conscience, leading Auburn to 12 straight wins this season even as the allegations swirled around him.

Still, you have to wonder why this was all wrapped up behind closed doors and kept quiet before being released Wednesday as an early Christmas gift to Auburn fans everywhere. It didn’t take long for SEC Commissioner Mike Slive to puff out his chest and declare the actions of Auburn and Mississippi State “make it clear this behavior will not be tolerated in the SEC.”

Perhaps. But Reggie Bush giving up his Heisman for what happened while he was at USC should be warning enough to anyone that the cesspool of agents, would-be agents, hangers-on and slimy coaches who permeate big time college football will always be on the prowl for the stars who can make their careers or make them money.

For now, though, the Cam Newton story shifts to a different stage. With the allegations behind him, he becomes the feel-good story of the year, a player who transferred from Florida only to come out of junior college to lead his team to the brink of a national title.

He’ll almost surely win the Heisman Trophy now that voters won’t have to debate his innocence or guilt while casting their ballots.

Story Continues →