- Associated Press - Thursday, December 2, 2010

AUBURN, ALA. (AP) - Heisman Trophy favorite Cam Newton can focus on playing for the SEC championship instead of worrying about pay-for-play.

The NCAA ruled Wednesday that Auburn’s quarterback won’t be punished for the payment scheme concocted by his father, Cecil.

Instead, the younger Newton will lead the second-ranked Tigers into the Southeastern Conference championship game Saturday against South Carolina _ with a shot at the national title on the line.

The NCAA cleared Newton to compete without conditions, saying it was Cecil Newton and “an owner of a scouting service” _ former Mississippi State player Kenny Rogers _ who violated amateurism rules.

The NCAA became involved during the summer in investigating the pay-for-play scheme that was discussed during Newton’s recruitment. Two Mississippi State boosters accused Cecil Newton and Rogers of trying to get up to $180,000 for Cam Newton to play for the Bulldogs while the quarterback was being recruited out of junior college last year.

“Based on the information available to the reinstatement staff at this time, we do not have sufficient evidence that Cam Newton or anyone from Auburn was aware of this activity, which led to his reinstatement,” Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president for academic and membership affairs, said in a news release.

All Auburn has said about the recruiting scandal is that Newton is eligible to play. When asked by The Associated Press Wednesday night if Auburn had ever paid the Newtons, coach Gene Chizik said: “I’m not answering any questions that don’t have anything to do with this football game.”

The question of how much Auburn and Cam Newton knew about the scam has dogged the 12-0 Tigers since news of the recruiting scandal became public last month.

The NCAA and Auburn moved swiftly this week to bring at least some resolution.

The sports governing body concluded Monday that a violation had been committed by Cecil Newton and Rogers. A day later _ following NCAA bylaws _ Auburn declared Newton ineligible and then requested his eligibility be reinstated.

But Lenin seems to have left the door open for future discipline. The NCAA would not say Wednesday that the case is closed, referring to its statement that notes reinstatement likely occurs “prior to the close of an investigation.”

Still, it was good news for Auburn.

“I’m glad to get all that behind us because we’re focusing on one thing and that’s winning the game in Atlanta,” Chizik said.

The ruling at least temporarily allays weeks-long fears that the Tigers would lose the player who has helped propel them from a middling SEC team last year to a never-say-die powerhouse with a shot at the title.

It also temporarily eases concerns that Auburn’s 12 wins _ and any titles _ would wind up being vacated if the NCAA had found that Newton had been ineligible because of violations committed before signing with the Tigers on New Year’s Eve 2009.

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