On Monday the NCAA said that Cam Newton had violated his amateur status. On Tuesday Auburn simultaneously suspended Newton and requested his reinstatement. On Wednesday, the NCAA reinstated Cam Newton. That's the timeline, no joke. Newton was initially deemed in violation because his father, Cecil, had requested somewhere between one hundred and two hundred thousand dollars from Mississippi St. in return for his enrollment. The NCAA is settled in its belief that this happened. Newton was reinstated according to the NCAA because, "We do not have sufficient evidence that Cam Newton or anyone from Auburn was aware of this activity." So, apparently, Cam Newton's father is free to shop him to the highest bidder so long as Cam Newton can plausibly pretend that he didn't know about it.
What exactly has changed since the NCAA declared that Newton was in violation of his amateur status? How is it possible that as of Monday he was in violation, and as of Wednesday he'd been reinstated? Normally, the NCAA takes years to investigate anything. It took five years after Reggie Bush's parents took money from an agent for USC to be put on probation and for Bush to give back his Heisman Trophy. Chris Webber's contact with a booster didn't bring NCAA sanctions to Michigan until ten years later. On Cam Newton, the NCAA changed its mind in 36 hours.
It's possible that neither Cam Newton nor Auburn had any knowledge that Cecil was trolling the SEC for dollars. It's possible, but not probable. Cam Newton, before any of the allegations against him were made public, admitted that his father made the decision on where he should attend college. Was there no discussion, no explanation, just, "You're going to Auburn and that's that." Cam never asked why? High school kids are always told that picking a college is the biggest decision in their lives to date. Cam Newton obviously didn't subscribe to that notion.
Even assuming Cam Newton knew nothing of what his father was up to, it's still laughable that he's eligible. What if Cecil Newton hadn't been so clumsy in his fundraising and had actually got money from some school? Would Cam Newton still be eligible as long as he didn't know about it? Can parents and hangers-on now profit from college athletes so long as they don't tell the athletes about it?
Cecil Newton was incompetent at getting paid for his son's skills. Cam Newton was ignorant of his father's incompetence. Cam Newton is still eligible because his father was incompetent and he was ignorant. Somehow I doubt that ignorance and incompetence are qualities that the NCAA is trying to foster in its student-athletes.
The NCAA suspended Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant for a season because he lied about having dinner with Deion Sanders. The NCAA suspended Georgia's A.J. Green for four games for selling one of his jerseys. The NCAA suspended Georgetown's Moses Ayegba for nine games because a f amily friend paid for his flight to school from his home in Nigeria. The NCAA has long punished players for the most minor of violations. Almost every year a player or program is punished for breaking rules that they didn't know existed. The NCAA rulebook is mammoth and byzantine; its appeals process slow and Kafkaesque. So how the NCAA can turn its head while the father of the best college football player in the country brazenly shops his son for hundreds of thousands of dollars is almost beyond comprehension.
Almost beyond comprehension until you remember that Auburn is very close to playing for a national championship. Almost beyond comprehension until you remember that Cam Newton is about to win the Heisman Trophy. The NCAA's flagship individual award doesn't carry quite the same cachet if the best player is ineligible. And the national championship game doesn't have quite the same sizzle with a Newton-less Auburn team playing Oregon. Or, even worse for ratings, a TCU-Oregon matchup if Auburn, sans Newton, can't win the SEC Championship.
Starting next year, ESPN will pay $500 million for the right to broadcast the college football national championship. They're paying for college football's marquee game. They don't want that game tarnished because the NCAA deemed the best player ineligible. The NCAA is all for preserving amateurism, it's just that in Cam Newton's case, the cost of preserving amateurism got a little too rich for their blood.