Is the conclusion of the Cam Newton saga coming into focus? While it's still too early to say with absolute certainty whether Newton will even be playing for Auburn tomorrow, much less at any point for the rest of the season, the actual nature of his misdeeds -- which are, at this point, purely alleged and based solely on the statements of a handful of Mississippi State-affiliated men -- seems to be less of a mystery today than it was earlier this week.
According to Channel 2 Action News in Atlanta, Cecil Newton has reportedly admitted to soliciting money from Mississippi State. Cecil Newton's alleged admission -- which comes without so much as a direct quote from Newton -- is apparently worded in a fashion that attempts to absolve all other parties of blame:
A source close to the situation exclusively told Channel 2 Action News investigative reporter Mark Winne that the player's father, Cecil Newton, has admitted having conversations with an ex-Mississippi State University player about the possibility of under-the-table money if Cam Newton signed to play football at Mississippi State, though he's steadfastly maintained that no money ever changed hands and said no official at Mississippi State ever made such an offer.
According to Winne’s source, Cecil Newton said his son’s hands are clean, and has made it clear that Cam Newton himself and his mother knew nothing about the money discussions, nor did Auburn University, with whom the Westlake High School grad from College Park eventually signed with out of junior college.
This isn't much of a new revelation in and of itself; yesterday, ESPN's Joe Schad reported that the Newtons admitted to soliciting money. The distinction here is that this is an admission to a news organization instead of the accusing party; it's one thing for an MSU source to say the Newtons made these statements to him, and quite another for a reporter to say the same. Moreover, this report comes from a new news organization, meaning the story is gaining traction. That doesn't make it true, necessarily, but it certainly lends it a higher air of plausibility.
The problem that Cam Newton faces is that his father's reported admission, while certainly nice-sounding, might not preserve Cam's eligibility; Mississippi State was led to believe that it would need to pay for Cam to play there. That in and of itself is an NCAA violation. And yet, as Alabama-based attorney Donald Jackson notes, the NCAA hasn't yet felt the need to take the relatively routine step of "strong-arming" Newton off the field:
Donald Jackson, an attorney in Montgomery who has faced off with the NCAA many times, said Thursday that the NCAA is apparently comfortable with Newton's eligibility.
"The NCAA never hesitates to strong-arm schools into taking athletes off the field if they have evidence of violations," Jackson said.
On the latest round of charges, Jackson said that in his opinion, "the statements from Kenny Rogers and John Bond don't add up to anything that would justify taking him off the field."
So will Newton be playing Saturday? It's easily possible. Auburn has known about this potential issue since January and seems to be committed to riding Newton all the way through the season; the only thing that has definitively changed between then and now is public opinion, and that's not usually a metric by which a football coach guides the management of his team. Being that even SEC chairman Mike Slive is reminding people that Newton's status for Saturday is Auburn's decision, it's probable that unless Auburn has additional information that hasn't been made public (and considering the fact that ESPN has been getting information more readily than the SEC, that doesn't seem particularly likely), we should probably see Newton on the field on Saturday.