I don’t know how the NCAA arrived at its decision regarding Cam Newton, so I won’t pretend that I do. I’m fairly certain nobody really understands it, and those who say they do are either driven by agenda or just plain making stuff up. Nothing I’ve seen, read or heard in the last 36 or so hours adequately explains how the decision to declare the Auburn quarterback eligible without condition makes any sense.
The NCAA, the SEC and Auburn University all agree that Newton’s father attempted to solicit a small fortune for his son’s services. It’s not just an allegation; the NCAA said that it happened.
Maybe the decision makers at the NCAA didn’t know their own rulebook says third-party solicitation is a violation.
Maybe they thought a one-day suspension of eligibility was the punishment that fit the crime.
Maybe they didn’t want to open the door for shunned schools — Mississippi State, for example — to be able to spoil the dream season of another.
Maybe they were oblivious to the fact that they’ve all but invited parents to shop their five-star sons to the highest bidder — as long as junior doesn’t know, of course, and as long as they don’t get caught actually receiving the requested benefits.
Maybe they didn’t realize the perception of a double standard they’d be creating.
Maybe they got out-lawyered and plan to deal with the 6-foot, 5-inch loophole later.
Or maybe they just don’t have any faith in Barrett Trotter … we’ll come back to that one.
As I said, I don’t know what they thought, so I won’t pretend to have cracked the code. But this much seems indisputable: the BCS, and by extension the NCAA, needs Cam Newton to play. Because as reviled as it is, the BCS has worked pretty well, and the NCAA would like to keep it that way.
It’s not a perfect system, but for five straight years, the BCS has succeeded in pitting the best two teams in the country against each another in the national championship game.
For that to continue, Auburn must win on Saturday in the SEC championship game. And Auburn won’t win with Trotter, the back-up quarterback, taking the snaps; Newton needs to be on the field.
If the Tigers lose, they will likely be shipped to another bowl, and TCU or Stanford or some other good but undeserving team will play for the national title.
And the BCS will have failed.
There are plenty of people hoping that’s exactly what happens. Odds are, none of them work for the NCAA.
The upside of a BCS failure is that it could be the impetus for the change so many want. The bad news is the most deserving team will have to miss its chance at a championship.
Is the possibility of a playoff worth that sacrifice?
Now imagine it’s your team in Auburn’s position and ask yourself again.
And make no mistake, even if they lose, Auburn is more deserving than unbeaten TCU or one-loss Stanford or any of the one-loss teams from the Big Ten.
Some might say that opinion makes me an SEC snob. I’d say it makes me a keen observer of the obvious.
Auburn has more quality wins, a tougher schedule, and if the Tigers slip up Saturday, their only loss will have come against a top 20 team, away from home, a week after rallying from 24 points down to beat their archrival (another top 20 team, by the way), on the road.
The only factor working against them: the other teams got their loss out of the way a few weeks ago and don’t have to play in a conference championship game this weekend.
And even though there’s no legitimate argument to make for TCU, some will make it.
As CBS color commentator Gary Danielson said earlier this week on the Paul Finebaum radio show: “If Auburn loses Saturday, it’s hard for me to say this … but we’ll probably see TCU play for the national championship.
“People are so determined to blow up the BCS, that they’re willing to sacrifice their votes to prove a point this year.”
He’s right. The NCAA knows it.
Anybody on Twitter who follows the major college football writers of America knows it.
Is that why the NCAA ruled the way it did in the unprecedented case of Cam Newton? Is this really all about self-preservation?
Maybe, maybe not.
Your guess is as good as mine.
Brent Holloway is the sports editor for The Times. Follow him at twitter.com/gtimesbholloway.