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The Media Forces Me to Give a Damn About Cam Newton Cheating

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For weeks I have ACTIVELY ignored the Cam Newton story.  Every 3-5 years we go through this same fire drill of a college athlete being accused of taking money or talking to agents or breaking any other one of the NCAA’s “rules” for athletes. I’m sick of it. I believe that athletes should follow the rules setforth, and I’m not making excuses, but when you have a system as corrupted as the one that drives male collegiate sports, it’s hard to get excited about issues with individual players.

Let’s stop bullshitting-the NCAA doesn’t take its own rules seriously. The NCAA benefits from the fact that the average sports watcher only sees “spoiled” athletes who get to go to world class institutions “for free,” and typically shake their hands at infractions. But a deeper look shows an intricately run and financed business that in many cases makes the institution a near-sole beneficiary.

When State Fan Nation took a look at college sport financing they found a mess of confusing threads of expenditures on balance sheets and certain items that either went unreported or confusingly reported.The fact is at most Division I schools that pour big money into their football and basketball programs, the athletics side of the institution is all but completely separate from the academics side. In other words, the athletics side is essentially a business with employees under contract, many of whom do NOT work for that business for free (e.g. under scholarship) yet contribute to the success of the business and risk their health while doing so. And those that do receive scholarships and are the major contributors to the business largely receive less than they’re worth.

This is not to excuse Newton or his family from breaking the rules but it is to say that collegiate athletic departments don’t set a good example. Players and their families see very clearly how athletic programs profit from the hardwork of the students. By the end of that students’ college career they naturally want a piece of the action.

When it comes to a sport like football when many high performers either wash out of the NFL within 3 years, aren’t drafted at all, are injured severely (such as in the case of Rutgers’ Eric LeGrande), or don’t even finish college, the appeal of getting paid now rather than later is heightened.

As it pertains to the media’s coverage of this issue, I think they are light years away from public opinion and are unintentionally turning Newton and his family into sympathetic figures when in reality they shouldn’t be. The media keeps harping on how sad it will be if Newton doesn’t win the Heisman or that this is embarrassing for Newton and his family.

From Forbes blog:

• It may cost him a chance to win the Heisman if Heisman voters (with the historic forfeiture of Reggie Bush’s Heisman still fresh on the mind in light of his wrongdoings) hedge their votes in light of not only allegations surrounding extra benefits but also academic fraud at his previous school, Florida. Such allegations would illuminate “integrity concerns, “which are part of the Heisman voting process now more than ever.

• Even if the investigation isn’t completed before the Heisman vote or the BCS National Championship game, Mr. Newton could be thrust into Reggie Bush’s shoes and face the shame/embarrassment of a Heisman forfeiture if improprieties come to light in the months and years after January 2011 and if he were to win the 2010 Heisman.

Typically speaking, Heisman Trophy winners see a spike in their future earnings either by virtue of endorsements upon turning pro and/or being able to command a higher signing bonus upon entering the NFL. But if these supposed character flaws associated with academic fraud and extra monetary benefits are corroborated, his potential endorsement cache and draft stock will sink like a stone … costing Mr. Newton millions.

While I agree that Newton’s family is probably pretty humiliated by the CONSTANT coverage, I think that embarrassment will be short lived because the public is largely used to this sort of thing.

As far as the Heisman is concerned, rookie players in the NFL are getting major payouts that have NOTHING to do with winning the Heisman. Over the past 10 years many Heisman winners haven’t even been drafted in the top 10. To continue to connect winning the Heisman with an automatic bigger pay day than other  picks of the same class is just dumb-word to Chris Weinke. Maybe I’m out of touch, but I see the Heisman as a (fleeting) bragging right. I’m sure Reggie Bush would agree.

Besides, if Newton doesn’t get the Heisman,  Phil Jackson will refer to this as the Heisman year with the asterisk-and rightfully so. That devalues the NCAA’s award, not Newton’s college accomplishments or draft prospects. And if he enters the next draft he has a great chance of going high and putting this all behind him. I highly doubt that NFL teams or even corporations want to make a habit out of punishing players for “character flaws” that happened in the past and aren’t that uncommon.

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