AUBURN, Ala. — 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 pay-for-play 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 over 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.
“From a student-athlete reinstatement perspective, Auburn University met its obligation under NCAA bylaw 14.11.1. Under this threshold, the student-athlete has not participated while ineligible.”
The question of how much Auburn and Cam Newton knew about the pay-for-play 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 Lennon 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.
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.
“We are pleased that the NCAA has agreed with out position that Cam Newton has been and continues to be eligible to play football at Auburn University,” Jay Jacobs, Auburn’s athletic director, said in the NCAA release.
The NCAA said Wednesday that Auburn and NCAA enforcement staff agreed that Newton’s father and an owner of a scouting service worked together on the scheme. The NCAA did not name Rogers.
Auburn has agreed to limit Cecil Newton’s access to its athletic program and Mississippi State has dissociated itself from Rogers, who worked for a sports agent.
“The conduct of Cam Newton’s father and the involved individual is unacceptable and has no place in the SEC or in intercollegiate athletics,” said Mike Slive, Southeastern Conference Commissioner. “The actions taken by Auburn University and Mississippi State University make it clear this behavior will not be tolerated in the SEC.”
It wasn’t immediately clear what access Cecil Newton would have at Auburn, and school officials said they would have no immediate further comment.
The Newtons’ attorney, George Lawson, told WSB-TV of Atlanta on Nov. 18 that he is “1 million percent” certain that Cam Newton did not take any money. Lawson says if Cecil Newton discussed money, his son “knew nothing” about it.
“No money has been offered to Cam Newton. Cam Newton hasn’t asked for any money,” Lawson said in the report. “Cam Newton, Cecil Newton and Jackie Newton have participated in the ongoing NCAA investigation. They have been truthful and candid with the NCAA.”
Rogers’ attorney, Doug Zeit, told The Associated Press that he had received a letter from Mississippi State on Wednesday morning stating that Rogers has been dissociated from the school.
“We’re not that surprised,” Zeit told the AP. “From what I understand, anything that’s related to athletics at Mississippi State, (Rogers) can’t participate.”
Zeit took issue with the wording of Mississippi State’s letter. The attorney said the school’s reasoning in the letter for dissociating itself with his client was because Rogers told the NCAA he made a solicitation for a player.
“Kenny Rogers never made a solicitation,” Zeit said. “We never told the NCAA that. I want to make that perfectly clear. Cecil Newton asked for the money and then Kenny Rogers passed along Newton’s message. That’s what happened. Cecil Newton asked for the money. Kenny Rogers was the messenger.”
Newton, who started his career at Florida and then transferred to a junior college for one season, ultimately chose Auburn over Mississippi State.
The allegations and media scrutiny have shadowed Newton and the Tigers for the past month, and he hasn’t spoken to reporters since Nov. 9.
Newton is the SEC’s leading rusher, one of the nation’s most efficient passers, and the league’s first player to have 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in a season.
He accounted for all four of Auburn’s touchdowns as the Tigers rallied from a 24-point deficit in last week’s 28-27 win at Alabama.
AP Sports Writer David Brandt in Jackson, Miss., contributed to this report.