Gainesville Aid Project
AUBURN, Ala. — As rumors swirled about his eligibility, Auburn's Cam Newton boarded the team bus on his way to Montgomery for an overnight stay Friday, a sign the Tigers quarterback is expected to play on Saturday against Georgia.
Meanwhile, according to a TV report out of Atlanta by Mark Winne, an unnamed source said Cam's father, Cecil, admitted to soliciting money from an ex-Mississippi State player last year, although he maintained his son, wife and Auburn knew nothing about it.
The news comes a little more than a week after an ESPN.com report said former Mississippi State quarterback John Bond said he was approached by a former teammate asking for $180,000 from the Bulldogs to secure the quarterback's signature during the recruiting process last year.
ESPN.com identified the former teammate as Kenny Rogers. Rogers said on the radio Thursday that he knew of Cecil's request but merely relayed the information to a booster, Bill Bell, who acknowledged to ESPN that Cecil solicited money.
When interviewed last week after initial reports emerged, Cecil denied any wrongdoing. He has since not taken phone calls.
Winne's source, who admitted being sympathetic for the Newtons, said Cecil said no money ever changed hands and no Mississippi State official ever made such an offer. The source also said the family has shown a willingness to cooperate with the NCAA.
According to the NCAA, a violation is committed the moment an athlete or athlete's family solicits extra benefits. Potential penalties are based on the type and scope of the violation. The athlete's responsibility is also considered.
Mississippi State athletics director Scott Stricklin released a statement Friday night confirming for the first time that the school was approached with an offer to provide an extra benefit during the recruitment of an unidentified student-athlete, presumably Newton.
"This offer was refused," Stricklin wrote. "MSU alerted the Southeastern Conference about the offer. MSU did not have any specific incriminating information about any other school, and thus could not provide any."
Mississippi State turned the information over to the SEC last January, leading to an NCAA investigation that is ongoing. Auburn, which looked into the matter this summer after being made aware of MSU's report to the conference, has not specifically been accused of wrongdoing.
Cam seemed unaffected by the rumors Friday, wearing formal attire and a wide smile while boarding the team bus amidst a large gathering of Auburn fans at the school's athletic complex. Players aren't allowed to travel with the team for the out-of-town hotel stay the night before games if they are ineligible.
Earlier in the day, the Birmingham News and AuburnUndercover.com cited unnamed sources who said Newton will start for the Tigers on Saturday.
Auburn did not officially comment on Newton's status Friday. Asked if Newton is still eligible, school spokesman Kirk Sampson replied, "No comment."
The school has not commented publicly on Newton's status since Wednesday, when head coach Gene Chizik said during the SEC teleconference that the quarterback is eligible and would play against Georgia.
The NCAA can recommend to a school what it should about an athlete's eligibility, but the rules say a school makes the ultimate decision.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive, who had been mum on the issue until Friday, told the Birmingham News that the conference has not made a recommendation to Auburn about whether or not to sit Newton on Saturday.
He urged the public not to draw any conclusions until all the facts are known.
"I hope that people will reserve judgment in fairness to the SEC, in fairness to the institutions and most importantly in fairness to the young man," Slive said. "I hope people will exercise thought and patience before making those decisions. I'm concerned about fairness. This has to do with fairness."
Slive said the only group that has all the facts is the NCAA.
"There's been a lot of things said," he said. "There's been some inconsistencies. There's been some credibility issues. But we're not in the place where we judge those."