If the Bowl Championship Series has accomplished nothing else – and most critics would argue that it hasn’t – it has at least made the final title game into a national story as no college game, not even the Rose Bowl at the height of its glory – did before it.
That makes tonight’s title game between the Auburn Tigers and Oregon Ducks as much of an event as an NFL playoff game – perhaps almost as much as the Super Bowl. But this year’s game has implications that no BCS game in years has had: this year’s game could be officially wiped off the books the way Southern Cal’s 2005 championship was.
In the pre-game hoopla, practically no one on national TV or in the national press wants to play spoiler and bring up the subject of the ugly back story, but somebody’s got to do it. Here it is: the likelihood is that Auburn is going to lose all of the wins from their 2010 perfect season as well as its national championship should they prevail over the Ducks tonight. Not tomorrow, to paraphrase Bogart in Casablanca, and maybe not soon, but sooner or later.
A month ago, the NCAA allowed Auburn’s great quarterback Cam Newton to play in the Southeastern Conference title game against South Carolina. Such was the euphoria among Auburn fans that most missed the ominous tone of the ruling: Newton was merely found without wrongdoing for now.
For those of you who may have missed what is probably the most written about scandal in college football history, Newton’s father, Rev. Cecil Newton, was accused of seeking money from Mississippi State boosters for his son to play football there – the amount was later revealed to be $180,000. The Reverend at first denied then later admitted to having solicited the money.
But the next thing anyone knew, his son was playing football for the Auburn Tigers. It has not yet been established that Cam Newton or his father took any money from anyone associated with Auburn, but, as Dan Wismar, an Ohio-based journalist wrote in a study of Auburn’s recruiting violations, wrote on the website the clevelandfan.com, “Given what we now know about the elder Newton, to believe in his innocence one is to take an irrational leap of faith. It is borderline delusional.”
So why then, you might you ask, was Cam Newton cleared by the NCAA to play in Auburn’s postseason games? Most likely for two reasons. The first is that the NCAA hasn’t found any clear evidence that the Newton took any money. A much more likely explanation, though, and one that fits the facts about the known history of the NCAA is this: Cam Newton has made millions in ticket sales, TV ratings, jersey sales, etc. for the NCAA and its client, Auburn University, and is poised to make millions more if Newton and the Tigers win tonight.
Let’s put it this way: the NCAA never kills a cash cow while it is being milked. You will recall all the known facts about payments to Reggie Bush and his family were pretty much known while he was still playing for the Southern California Trojans back in 2005-2006. It took four years for the NCAA to hand down punishment, taking away the Trojans national championship and bringing pressure which resulted in Bush relinquishing his Heisman Trophy for the 2006 season.
The NCAA has never declared a player ineligible while he was still playing. There have been relatively minor suspensions, such as the recent sentence handed out to four Ohio State players for selling their jerseys and trophies. But you’ll note that their suspensions begin next season and were not in effect for the Buckeye’s recent Sugar Bowl match against Arkansas, in which all four played.
The Sugar Bowl, of course, with its national television contract, is big money.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve always been in favor of college football players getting all the money they can while they can. The NCAA exists for one purpose, namely to control the earning power of big time college athletes and funnel it to the universities and the NCAA – and all in the name of a phony code of amateurism which only applies to those who produce that revenue in the first place. But that’s beside the point, which is that the NCAA is almost certainly going to come down like a ton of bricks on Auburn after the season is over, and in fact after all the jerseys, books and DVDs are sold.
For myself, all I can say is that I’m from Alabama and while my loyalties are with the Crimson Tide, when Alabama is not playing Auburn I pull for the Tigers. I can dump on that “cow college” – as Bear Bryant once affectionately referred to auburn – but I don’t like it when anyone else does. So if Cam Newton wins tonight, it’s going to live in my memory no matter what some pompous NCAA committee rules a year or two from now. War Eagle!