Controversy haunts Cam Newton's Heisman quest
The storyline at the Best Buy Theatre in Times Square on Saturday night won’t be who won the 76th Annual Heisman Memorial Trophy.
No, the Heisman Trophy was all but awarded to Auburn quarterback Cam Newton on Dec. 1, when the NCAA ruled he was eligible to compete for the Tigers.
Instead, it will revolve around what Newton says — or doesn’t say — during his Heisman acceptance speech about the events that have surrounded him and his father, Cecil, during the past month.
Newton has been the talk of the college football landscape since a report last month implied that Cecil Newton sought a six-figure payment from Mississippi State for the services of his son.
While the NCAA concluded that a violation of amateurism rules occurred when Cecil Newton shopped his son to Mississippi State, there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that the Auburn junior was aware of the situation.
Regardless if you think Cam Newton was aware of the situation or not, there’s no denying he’s the best player in college football this season. In his first season as a starter, Newton accounted for nearly 4,000 total yards and 48 touchdowns, leading an Auburn program that barely cracked the preseason Top 25 polls to a BCS Championship birth against the University of Oregon.
And just in case there was any doubt, Newton torched the University of South Carolina for six touchdowns in the SEC Championship game last Saturday.
“Hands down, without a doubt,” former USC and NFL quarterback Rodney Peete said Thursday on if he would vote for Cam Newton for the Heisman Trophy. “If he doesn’t win the Heisman Trophy, I am getting on a plane and leaving the country.”
A handful of journalists with Heisman votes have come forward this week and publicly admitted they won’t vote for Cam Newton because of the uncertainty surrounding the investigation.
“Those guys are ridiculous,” Peete said. “It’s about performance on the field. He has proven himself on the field and nothing has been proven off the field yet. Give the kid the Heisman Trophy and give him the benefit of the doubt.”
A former standout at USC, Peete is all too familiar with how the Newton saga is playing out. Earlier this year, the NCAA dropped the hammer on USC for running back Reggie Bush taking improper benefits from two sports marketers hoping to sign him.
“The whole deal surrounding the Cam Newton situation and his dad is really unfortunate,” Peete said. “I know he has a lot of USC people a little upset because we got the book thrown at us and have seen nothing really happen to Auburn at this point and time. The hard part is the NCAA doesn’t know how to handle this situation or what to do. When you have family members involved, it’s really hard to figure out and prove the student-athlete knew exactly what was going on.”
NCAA president Mark Emmert stands by the decision to reinstate Newton despite the critics.
“There’s of course always going to concern and criticism around a case with such high visibility as the Cam Newton affair,” Emmert said. “The hue and cry of the decision would have probably been ten-fold greater had it gone in the other direction. So what we have to do is ignore that. You don’t make the decision based on what public opinion is going to say about that choice. You make it based upon the facts in front of you. You make it based upon the rules as they are at that time. That’s what our people did. That’s what the appeals committee did. I’m very comfortable and confident with where they wound up.”
The person ultimately responsible for the NCAA investigation will not be attending the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Cecil Newton issued a statement on Thursday explaining his decision not to attend for fear of upstaging his son.
“So that my son Cam Newton can receive all the honors and congratulations that he has worked so hard to accomplish and without distraction, I have decided not to be in attendance at the Heisman ceremony, as it will perhaps rob Cam and the event of a sacred moment,” Cecil Newton said in a statement.
It’s got to hurt,” said two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin on Cecil Newton missing the ceremony. “As Cam Newton, if he wins it, he certainly wants his father to be there. If that were your son … if that was one of my kids, shoot, I would most definitely want to be there. That would be something I wouldn’t want to miss.”
Cam Newton continues to claim his innocence and admitted in an interview with ESPN’s Chris Fowler that he hasn’t discussed the situation with his father yet.
“If I were in his shoes right now, I would probably handle it the same way,” Griffin added. “That way when I answer questions, I can say that I don’t know and that I haven’t talked to my father about it. That’s probably a good thing for him.”
For Cam Newton, ignorance is truly bliss.