AUBURN — With the benefit of a month of perspective, we can see that the risks Auburn took in the Cam Newton saga were calculated and savvy, not reckless and uninformed.
On Wednesday, the NCAA more or less closed the book on Auburn’s portion of the story that has captivated college football since news first broke on Nov. 4 that Cam Newton’s father allegedly shopped his son to Mississippi State.
The crux of that original story has been proven true, although one gets the sense that Auburn fans are not lining up to apologize to the reporters involved.
Some of the subsequent coverage bordered on the hysterical, which is not entirely surprising. This is, after all, the most prominent player on one of the nation’s most prominent teams, and the story seemed to confirm every damning stereotype of the way business is conducted in the Southeastern Conference.
But a month of intensive investigation by the NCAA, SEC and Auburn seems to indicate the truth was far less exciting. Cam’s father Cecil did indeed shop his son, allegedly with the help of former MSU player Kenny Rogers, but found no takers in Starkville. Perhaps stung by the rejection, he evidently didn’t try the scheme elsewhere.
The price tag he was allegedly seeking — $200,000, or $180,000 with the discount included — seems like a “bargain” now. But at the time, Newton was merely an above-average junior college transfer carrying loads of baggage — and, as we know now, a troublesome father. It’s no wonder Mississippi State boosters rolled their eyes.
From Auburn’s perspective, the last month has been fraught with difficult decisions.
Many wondered in the wake of the seemingly damning early reports why Auburn wouldn’t just bench Newton as a precaution. Those decisions are easy to make when a team is 0-0 or 4-4. But when the team is on a path to play for its first national title in more than 50 years, the question is much more complex.
Ultimately, Auburn chose the right path. The university was cooperative while still being assertive. Auburn officials protected their player and their institution. Because they didn’t overreact, they saved an undefeated season. Because they coaxed Cecil Newton to come clean and were transparent in all their dealings, they earned Cam Newton a quick reprieve from the NCAA.
The Newton saga isn’t entirely over, of course. Certainly, if there’s more out there that hasn’t been uncovered, Auburn’s chapter could be reopened. But for now the focus will be on Rogers, and to a lesser extent, Mississippi State.