Cam Newton Investigation: NCAA President Defends Newton's Eligibility

After the NCAA ruled yesterday that Auburn Tigers QB Cam Newton would be eligible to keep playing until proven otherwise, more than a few fans and writers were upset. Among other things, the ruling seemed to set a precedent that would allow family members to shop football recruits to schools without repercussion.

NCAA president Mark Emmert addressed those concerns in a statement released this evening:

We recognize that many people are outraged at the notion that a parent or anyone else could “shop around” a student-athlete and there would possibly not be repercussions on the student-athlete’s eligibility.I’m committed to further clarifying and strengthening our recruiting and amateurism rules so they promote appropriate behavior by students, parents, coaches and third parties. We will work aggressively with our members to amend our bylaws so that this type of behavior is not a part of intercollegiate athletics.”

Many in the media and public have drawn comparisons between recent high-profile NCAA decisions while ignoring the important differences among the cases. There is a purposeful distinction between determining student-athlete responsibility through an eligibility decision and university culpability through the infractions process. Universities are accountable for rules violations through the infractions process.

Student-athletes are responsible for rules violations through the eligibility process.

Reinstatement decisions are independent of the NCAA enforcement process and typically are made once the facts of the student-athlete’s involvement are determined. The reinstatement process is likely to conclude prior to the close of an investigation.

"The enforcement staff investigates all types of rules violations," said Julie Roe Lach, NCAA vice president of enforcement. "Some of these investigations affect student-athlete eligibility and others do not. The investigation does not stop with a student-athlete eligibility issue, but school officials must address it as soon as they are aware of the violations."

The NCAA looks at each student-athlete eligibility decision based on its merits, because no two are identical. In the Cam Newton reinstatement case, there was not sufficient evidence available to establish he had any knowledge of his father’s actions and there was no indication he actually received any impermissible benefit. If a student-athlete does not receive tangible benefits, that is a different situation from a student-athlete or family member who receives cash, housing or other benefits or knowingly competes and is compensated as a professional athlete.

"As the reinstatement staff reviews eligibility cases, we must review each case based on its own merits and the specific facts," said Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president of academic and membership affairs.

"During the decision, we must examine a number of factors, including guidelines established by our membership for what conditions should be applied based on the nature and scope of the violation. We also carefully consider any mitigating factors presented by the university to determine if relief from the guidelines should be provided."

While comparisons may be human nature, they should at least be made based on the facts.

So the NCAA can’t yet prove Cam Newton that did anything wrong, but is still looking into whether Auburn did. Got all that. And defensive tone aside, it’s nice to see the NCAA respond to what have been pretty widespread concerns.

There’s still this issue: the rule in question, as clarified to the New York Times by NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn, was broken. A one-night suspension on a night without a game is a shuffling of paperwork, not a response to a broken rule.

And this: what if Mississippi State or Auburn had paid Cecil Newton without Cam Newton’s knowledge? Would Newton be eligible in that instance? Since when is the failure to coerce a conspirator a winning defense against having attempted to do so?

It’s Emmert’s repeated insistence that no precedent has been set by this ruling that illuminates the biggest problem with the NCAA’s powers here. Since it’s decrees aren’t law, they don’t have to be governed by precedent. Without precedent, The NCAA is as free as ever to make its next decision without any shading whatsoever from this decision. It’s a capricious ruling body that will remain so whether Newton plays or not.

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