Last night, ESPN and the New York Times broke stories alleging that a former Mississippi State football player, Kenny Rogers, approached the program through another former player, John Bond, and claimed to be “representing” then Junior College transfer prospect Cameron Newton. According to reports the man approached Bond and informed him that Newton was interested in playing for the Bulldogs, but Rogers told him that “it would take some cash to get Cam.” Mississippi State refused the offer.
Newton later signed with Auburn.
According to stories posted this morning at al.com, Auburn University officials said that they knew of the issue last summer and that the Southeastern Conference had also been made aware of credible, specific allegations of recruiting improprieties surrounding Newton.
What’s also known is that Newton’s father, Cecil Newton, is a pastor at a church in Newnan, Georgia called the Holy Zion Center for Deliverance. From June 2009 until Spring 2010, a time frame which includes the high profile recruitment of Cecil’s son, the church was under intense pressure from local building code enforcement officials to either renovate or demolish the church’s facility at 115 Temple Ave. Stories describing the timeline of events regarding the church’s status are found here, here and here.
To summarize the Times-Herald stories: In summer 2009, the Holy Zion Center was under order to either show cause why it should not be demolished due to safety issues. The church’s leadership sought and received an extension in early fall 2009. In May 2010, the city was prepared to issue stop work orders on construction progress to that date. But by the end of last month, all work had been completed and the church had been brought up to code.
Given the fact that this is the SEC, and that this is about football, and that Auburn is no stranger to NCAA improprieties (still the SEC’s most penalized program for major infractions), the timing of events regarding Newton’s recruiting and the church’s difficulties in saving its property from the bulldozer suggests something went down. It’s important to note however that Auburn has not received any Letter of Inquiry from the NCAA.
Kevin Scarbinsky’s column at al.com makes an argument that a super-sensitive compliance department at Auburn would have fallen on swords to prevent Newton from playing if there were any credible information about his eligibility:
OK. You're the Auburn compliance department. You're known in your own athletic department, and not always fondly, for your hyper-aggressive and extremely cautious nature.Knowing the allegation against Newton, knowing the SEC knew, would you sit by and watch your coaches play him in the first game if you had any doubt about his eligibility or amateur status?It would've been an indefensible risk.That same source close to Auburn athletics said, as of late Thursday night, that there has been no NCAA allegation against Auburn or anyone on its staff regarding Newton's recruiting.That source also said that Auburn investigated and discovered there was no contact between anyone at the school and Rogers, who allegedly portrayed himself as Newton's rep, at any time before or after Newton signed with the Tigers.
This makes sense—if you had any question at all about whether Newton’s recruitment was clean, why would you take the risk of playing him? Why, until you had a letter or some other written statement from the NCAA or SEC that the matter does not affect his eligibility, would you risk becoming the SEC’s version of the USC – Reggie Bush fiasco?
Pete Fiutak, writing for Scout.com’s College Football News offers this:
Auburn, your reputation and your credibility could be on the line here. On the mere suspicion of impropriety, you have to make sure that there's nothing to this. Yes, your prize JUCO transfer, who left Florida after getting arrested on three felony counts relating to a stolen laptop computer, probably shouldn't wear an Auburn uniform until more of the story is uncovered, but that's not going to happen. (And Florida, you had better get working on your story about how you got Newton to come to Gainesville in the first place.)No, Gene Chizik shouldn’t be in trouble right now without any investigation, and Newton doesn’t have to be booted off the team yet, but this simply doesn't look good.Auburn, you have to be proactive here to the nth degree. It’s up to you to tell us what, if anything, happened, because if it’s the NCAA that ends up doing more legwork and finds out that someone in your program (like a booster) paid to have Newton come in and play quarterback, you’re going to become very familiar with three letters. U.S.C.
I am a dyed-in-the-wool Alabama fan. Auburn is the Crimson Tide’s cross-state rival. The rivalry is tense and close because it has all of the flavor of an interfamily feud. But I wouldn’t wish an NCAA investigation on the Taliban. I agree with Fiutak. Auburn needs to turn over every rock—in the full light of day—to demonstrate that they’ve done absolutely nothing improper, and that none of its boosters or other athletic interests had anything to do with that church getting rebuilt. The timing of the events is highly suspicious, and even the bare allegations of impropriety in light of the USC – Bush affair are enough to derail Newton’s Heisman Trophy hopes.
Newton is an exceptionally gifted player, who has his team on the inside track to the BCS Championship and College Football’s most coveted personal award. Auburn can’t screw this up.
UPDATE: A copy and paste from the City of Newnan’s Council Agenda, June 9, 2009:
No one by the name “Anthony Paige” is listed as a licensed professional contractor in the State of Georgia. You will however, find a registered sports agent by that name. Too much coincidence?
UPDATE II: Cam Newton has a brother, Cecil Newton, Jr. Newton was eligible for the 2009 NFL Draft after playing for Tennessee State. In a Q&A from the Draft Bible:
Who is your agent/agency and what factors went into your decision?Newton: My agent is Tony Paige with Perennial Sports and Entertainment. My father did a lot of background on potentially 10-15 other agencies that were recruiting me. Tony was a great selection because of his knowledge and experience in the industry.
Too much more coincidence? In the al.com and ESPN.com stories, the agent alleged to have approached Mississippi State was Kenny Rogers, who works for Game Sports and Entertainment. Anthony Paige however, is identified as working for Perennial Sports and Entertainment. There does not appear to be a connection between the two.
Based on this new information, it’s hard not to conclude that Newton’s eligibility is in question.
UPDATE III: No one person by the name of Anthony Paige, but here’s this LinkedIn profile.
UPDATE IV: John Bond (the man approached by Rogers) has released a statement about the matter.