Around lunchtime on December 1, the NCAA issued a press release declaring that Auburn quarterback Cam Newton would be eligible to continue playing for AU.
After a solid month of accusations, innuendo, and media feeding frenzy, the final result was… nothing. No change. Minus a period of a few hours between Monday and Wednesday, Newton was and remains an eligible player at Auburn.
The NCAA also affirmed that Newton had been eligible for Auburn's prior 12 games in 2010, putting the oft-speculated possibility of forfeits and/or vacations [insert Go-Go's joke here] of those games, all victories, off the table.
In other words, all is the same as it ever was. Auburn remains undefeated, Newton remains the starting quarterback, and a month's worth of non-stop "reporting" accomplished nothing other than driving up the ratings for the Auburn-Georgia game.
Kind of makes you wonder what all the fuss was about, doesn't it?
The world being what it is, a great many people weren't satisfied with this result. ESPN's Joe Schad, having staked his reputation on a hearsay story peddled to him by people with axes to grind, pouted on camera and jumped on every opportunity to suggest that there might be more revelations somewhere down the road.
Montgomery attorney Donald Jackson, who unlike Schad, has vast experience in NCAA cases, scoffed at that notion in an interview with the Birmingham News. "If there was a big fire here, that ruling wouldn't have happened," Jackson said flatly.
Several of Schad's collegues, apparently unwilling to give up on such a rich trove of ratings and site visits, opined that a "Cam Newton loophole" had been opened. A popular line of attack, as enunciated by the normally-sane Gene Wojciechowski, asserted "The NCAA just made it possible for anyone with a blue-chip prospect to shop that player without fear of real punishment."
Well, no, Geno, and you're a smart enough guy to know better than that. The distinction you're breezing over is, while Cecil Newton apparently did talk about getting money from Mississippi State with MSU booster and erstwhile agent Kenny Rogers, Cam Newton didn't sign with or play at Mississippi State. If he had, he'd most probably be ineligible, but the last time I checked, State's quarterback was Chris Relf, not Cam Newton.
Nobody at Auburn was asked for anything in return for Newton's signature, and nobody provided anything for it. On the basis of that, Auburn ought to be punished… why? Because that would make you feel better?
The carping wasn't limited to sportswriters. Even Southern Cal athletic director Pat Hayden elected to jump in, even though he runs a program some two thousand miles away from the SEC. Hayden griped to the L.A. Times, "In the Reggie Bush case, when the parent [did] something inappropriate the kid and the school suffered."
Indeed they did, Pat. And you know why? Because Reggie Bush's family actually got illegal stuff, and your coaches knew about it! Crazy, man!
The same also applies to the Marcel Darius, A.J. Green, and North Carolina agent party cases-in all of them, the players actually received benefits from boosters and/or agents. As the NCAA reaffirmed yesterday, there's no evidence whatsoever that either Cam or Cecil Newton ever received anything from anybody.
But of course, when simple facts don't fit somebody's agenda, those facts tend to be ignored. Auburn's opponents and their fans are put out that they won't get losses to the Tigers wiped off their records, and are doubly disappointed that they'll have to watch Newton continuing to play in the post-season. Even with their hopes now dashed, it's a safe bet that the Legend Of Cam's Cash will repeated for decades to come, every-growing in the scope of its perfidy, regardless of the actual facts of the case.
And then there's the press. For whatever reasons, ESPN and a fair chunk of the rest of the sports commentariat decided this story was a by-gawd SCANDAL!, and trivialities like evidence aren't to be considered. Maybe they don't want to look stupid in retrospect, maybe there's some actual animus against Auburn or Newton, or maybe they just want to milk the whole thing for a few more eyeballs; no matter the reason, they don't want to let it go.
It makes you wonder why they got in such a lather over Auburn's stance of making no comments to the press during the past couple of weeks. As AU linebacker Josh Bynes observed, "Even if you guys were told the truth, you wouldn't believe it. The truth doesn't sell."
Sadly, that's often the case. Happily though, the truth still does matter in the real world, even if it's of marginal utility in the fantasy worlds of people with axes to grind or commercials to sell.