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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Auburn comes to Cam Newton's defense amid allegations of academic misconduct at Florida

Barring any late developments, this will be my story for tomorrow's newspaper:
AUBURN, Ala. — As it set about preparing for Georgia with a chance to clinch an SEC title game berth, Auburn had to come to the defense of Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Cam Newton for the second time in five days following reports of academic misconduct during his two years at Florida.

The latest twist in the Newton imbroglio prompted an angry response from Auburn coach Gene Chizik, who called the reports “pure garbage” at his weekly press conference and openly wondered who was behind them.

“I’m standing up here on a very important week trying to defend something that, quite frankly, is garbage,” Chizik said during a 4½-minute opening statement. “Is there a wizard behind the curtain? I don’t know and I don’t care.

“But what I do care about is coming to the defense of not only a great football player, but a great human being who comes from a great family.”

Four days after reports that a man claiming to represent Newton’s interests asked Mississippi State for a six-figure payment during the quarterback’s recruitment last year came a Fox Sports report that said Newton faced possible expulsion from the University of Florida for three instances of academic cheating.

The report, citing a single unnamed source, said Newton violated Florida’s honor code by cheating in class his freshman year.

It alleged a second violation in 2008 when he put his name on another student’s paper and turned it in. Newton then turned in a second paper that had been purchased off the Internet.

According to the source in the report, Newton was set to appear in front of Florida’s Student Conduct Committee during the spring semester of 2009. He transferred to Blinn College in Texas in January of that year.

Newton did not confirm or deny the reports of cheating Tuesday.

“I’m not going to entertain something that took place not three months, not six months, not even a year, (but) two years ago,” he said. “I’m not going to sit up here and say anything about it, whether I did or did not do it, because I think I don’t want to beat a dead horse talking about it. It’s not going to affect me in any way, shape, or form.”

Newton, who signed with Auburn last December, has said repeatedly that he chose to leave Florida on his own accord, needing a fresh start following his arrest for theft of a laptop in November 2008. Newton maintains he purchased the stolen item unwittingly. The charges were dropped after he completed a pre-trial intervention program for first-time offenders.

Newton also said future playing time was a factor, with Tim Tebow choosing to return for his senior season and John Brantley as a future competitor at quarterback. Although Tebow announced he was returning for his senior season Jan. 11, 2009, while reports of Newton’s decision to transfer began as early as Jan. 5 of that year.

The Fox Sports report said Newton was not enrolled at Florida for the spring semester when he decided to transfer.

The accusations come on the heels of last week’s ESPN.com report that former Mississippi State player Kenny Rogers claimed to represent the Newton’s family’s interests when he asked for $180,000 from his alma mater to secure the quarterback’s signature last fall.

Newton and his family have denied any wrongdoing and have turned over bank and financial documents to the NCAA.

Auburn has stood by the quarterback’s eligibility throughout the matter, with school sources saying the issue was investigated thoroughly this summer. An NCAA investigation is ongoing.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who joined Auburn and Mississippi State in recruiting Newton last fall, told the Associated Press that the Sooners didn’t encounter anything irregular during the process.

TMZ Sports reported Tuesday that the FBI has requested a meeting with former Mississippi State quarterback John Bond, who was the person Rogers allegedly came to with the request for money. Bond said he turned the information over to school officials, who relayed it to the SEC offices.

The timing and sourcing of the latest reports have raised eyebrows, considering the Tigers are 10-0 and ranked No. 2 in the Bowl Championship Series rankings.

Contacted by the Ledger-Enquirer, Newton’s father, Cecil, said he could not comment, a more restrained stance than what he took during interviews earlier in the day.

“Any logical thinking individual should stand back and say, ‘What is really going on here?’” he told AuburnUndercover.com.

He told the Paul Finebaum radio show that “this is a character assassination attempt.”

“Am I hurt? No. Am I curious? A little bit,” Cam said. “But it really doesn’t bother me that much. I’m a blessed individual.”

Multiple reports linked Florida coach Urban Meyer to leaking the first story about Newton, leading to rumors that he was behind Tuesday’s story as well. Meyer has denied any connection to either story.

“For anyone to think that I or anyone on our staff may have leaked information about private student records to the media doesn’t know us very well,” Meyer said in a statement. “It’s a ridiculous claim and simply not true.”

Asked specifically if he believed Meyer’s statement, Newton stood behind his former coach.

“Absolutely,” Newton said. “The coach that I knew, the one I once committed to, a man of integrity, I would hope he wouldn’t say anything like that.”

Chizik didn’t speculate on who might be behind the story but might have insinuated enough with his omission of Florida’s coaches when speaking about Newton’s character history.

“If you really want to do your homework, go and start with his Little League coach, then go to his junior high coach, then go to his high school coach, then go to his junior college coach and then come talk to any coach at Auburn,” Chizik said. “And you’re all going to hear the same thing.

“So this is a waste of my time, but I’m going to address it because I’m defending a young man who deserves it.”

In the meantime, Auburn officials lined up in support behind Newton. Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs went to the drastic measure of releasing a statement regarding the latest reports.

“These allegations and rumors about Cam Newton are unfortunate and sad because they seem intent on tearing down the reputation of a young man who has done everything we’ve asked him to do,” Jacobs said. “Cam has been and continues to be completely honest with us.”

Jacobs said he could not comment specifically on Newton’s academic records because it violates federal privacy laws.

“We will not go down that path or stoop to that level as others have apparently done,” he said. “We will, however, emphatically say that Cam is eligible to play football at Auburn University both academically and athletically.”

Chizik stood by Newton’s Heisman Trophy candidacy, despite concerns the latest reports could sway voters against him.

“He’s one of the leaders in the Heisman race because he deserves it. That’s fact,” Chizik said. “Distractions and whatever is out there, whatever people want to drum up and dream up and try to distract — it is what it is and it’s not changing.

“Cameron is going to be focused on playing Georgia this week. Nothing has changed in terms of who he is and what he is, but he is like our son here, and I have a problem with it.”

22 comments:

JC said...

Andy, what is your take on Will Collier's article on Rivals that has two sources with the Florida Academic Board stating that they had no knowledge of Cam being told to go before it? Seems like Collier is just as much of a journalist than this columnist with Fox.

Did you consider it for your article?

CHB said...

Andy, I have always liked you work and I know you have a job to do. However, if you are going to report what some clown named Thayer is writing why don't you also include the numerous other articles that point out inaccuracies in the story?

Andy Bitter said...

I've read and appreciated Collier's work for quite some time, but even he would be the first to admit he has a pro-Auburn slant to his stories. Fox Sports is, ostensibly, an unbiased outlet relative to that, depending on your opinion of Thayer Evans (and for that matter the New York Times, which independently verified the story today).

I'm not saying Collier's report is false. I'm not sure how big Florida's Academic Board is and whether or not every member is privy to all the happenings.

I do know that when given an opportunity to refute the claims of cheating today, Newton chose not to comment. In fact, nobody, when given the chance to go on the record, flatly denied the accusations.

What does it mean in the larger picture? Not much. Whether or not it's true, Newton was admitted to two separate colleges after whatever transpired at Florida. I think that's something of note, considering the accusations.

Anonymous said...

Andy-

CBS Sportline has reported the 2 sources on the FL Academic Board with no knowledge of Cam's academic charges. See tigerland.com for article.

CJ said...

Andy, don't be naive regarding how "unbiased" Thammel & Evans are. They are quite biased. So the point about the Florida's Academic Board source saying they would absolutely would have known if it were brought before the board is what?

Let's suppose Newton did cheat his freshman year, & the subsequent year. So what? If true, he was punished for that 2 years ago. He had to leave Fla. & start over @ Blinn JC. And if Mullen is the source for the "cheating" article, why did he try to recruit him to Ms St.? Evans said he faced certain expulsion. Given Collier's sources, that sounds like hyperbole with biased conclusions. And that's the point, not that he didn't cheat, but it's irrelevant, & is simply an attempt at character assassination. What's next? Parking tickets? Going 60 in a 55 speed zone? Not returning a library book? Had unprotected sex? Picking his nose, & wiping it on his shirt? Enough is enough.

Whatever happened @ Fla, surely Newton has paid that price w/o bringing up every indiscretion he committed like it came from On High.

Andy Bitter said...

I agree. Whatever happened at Florida is immaterial to what is going on at Auburn now. I've said as much. It still doesn't change the fact that this is a news story right now.

Andy Bitter said...

Also, that CBS link is a blog that simply refers to the article on AuburnSports.com. It's not independent verification.

Andy Bitter said...

And yes, some outlet has already brought up a number of traffic charges, identifying a number of moving violations Newton had at Florida. Seems like a bit of overkill to me.

icetiger said...

The NYT did not necessarily independently verify the story. Thamel stated: "A person briefed on Newton’s situation confirmed Tuesday the FoxSports.com report..." That person could have been Thayer Evans

Andy Bitter said...

Now that I re-read that part of the NY Times story, I'm not quite sure what it means.

icetiger said...

Thayer Evans has had trouble with verification before as the NYT has reported.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/18/opinion/18pubed-web.html?pagewanted=2

And thanks for all your hard work.

JC said...

I agree to the slant of Collier's work, but it would seem another writer with ESPN, NY Times, CBS, AJC maybe even the CL-E, could try to get similar comments. But it feels like most of the coverage in these stories have been spoon-fed by "sources" and then repeated in sensationalistic tones.

Good work, Andy. Hope things straighten out soon.

61 Degrees North said...

Andy,

Any luck tracking down Eric DeLaet in the UF Athletic Department?

The Rivals.com story at

http://auburn.rivals.com/content.asp?CID=1150522

listed him as knowing about the leak ahead of time. He has now become "unavailable for comment".

This gets curiouser and curiouser.

Clint Richardson said...

Hey AB. What is your oppinion on all this?? An Auburn fan can't go any where (al.com, espn.com...) and find a fair, unbiased oppinion on all this. I think that you are one of the best writers out there, and I'm really curious as to what you think.

Anonymous said...

Andy you stated " It still doesn't change the fact that this is a news story right now." Please explain how this is news if any thing it's a witch hunt or better yet trashing of a kid do something good.Do everyone a favor report something else this is tired garbage move on, next story please.

Anonymous said...

Andy,

If you can report "According to the source in the report, Newton was set to appear in front of Florida’s Student Conduct Committee during the spring semester of 2009. He transferred to Blinn College in Texas in January of that year." Why can't you also include the two sources that discredit the allegations. Report both sides of the story Andy.

Anonymous said...

Andy, you said "I do know that when given an opportunity to refute the claims of cheating today, Newton chose not to comment. In fact, nobody, when given the chance to go on the record, flatly denied the accusations." Did you consider Cam and AU are in a no win situation. Think before you write AU beat writer.

Starla said...

The ESPN Heisman watch list has Cam Newton listed as #1 and LaMichael James as #2. I find it interesting that both Cam & James are featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week. However, what I cannot fathom is that the sports pundits are saying Cam is undeserving of the Heisman because of unfounded allegations, whereas LaMichael James was arrested on 5 charges: one count of strangulation, two counts of assault in the fourth degree and two charges of physical harassment. Really??? Puhleez!!!

-Ryan said...

Andy,

Do you make anything out of the FBI wanting to meet with Bond??

Seems somewhat odd for them to be involved in all of this, unless they are investigation extortion or something similar.

Thanks for your hard work and coverage. I'd say I feel sorry for dealing with all the people complaining today but I'm sure you knew what you were getting into taking an SEC (and especially Auburn) beat job :)

TomR said...

It appears that expulsion from UF was not a very likely outcome for young Cam. According to this article from The Gainesville Sun's "The Chalkboard" by Nathan Crabbe, "...just two of the 607 academic dishonesty cases at UF from 2007 through February resulted in expulsions. About 18 resulted in suspensions and those cases typically involved repeat offenders, according to UF’s office of student conduct and conflict resolution."

https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=607864319113145554&postID=797523138667404941

This series of "news" reports, along with their timing, carries the odor of character assassination in my opinion.

AUsome04 said...

OMG! Our season is being turned into a three-ring circus by the media. I can't believe this sh*%. Did I just read something about the feds getting involved? Wow!

I wonder how do our seniors feel about playing their last game in Jordan-Hare. For the SEC West title no less. I wonder how the seniors feel about the turnaround in two years to close out the stadium for the season on senior day. How does Malzahn feel about the 3-4. What do our corners think about AJ Green, Is Eltoro ready for a complete game, etc. Newton's been here a few months and he's getting accused of stuff that didn't happen on our watch. And in the backgroup you have a whole slew of players who also have put so much effort into this year who seem to have been forgotten. Oh well,...

TomR said...

Oops. Wrong link.

http://chalkboard.blogs.gainesville.com/2010/11/if-newton-faced-expulsion-at-uf-hed-be-exception/?tc=ar