Top 10 Sports Stories of 2010: #5 – The NCAA vs. Reggie Bush, Cam Newton, & Ohio State Football

“I didn’t know.”

Boy, if only that excuse worked. “I didn’t know that the speed limit was 55, officer.” “I didn’t know that the test was today – can I take it later?” “I didn’t know that the injection was steroids, honest!” “I didn’t know that our star wide receiver was living in a drug house.” “I didn’t know that my father was looking for $180,000 for me to play at Mississippi State.”

All of those “I didn’t know” statements have come up at one point or another in life. All of them set a dangerous precedent if the excuse is excepted as truth. But in most cases in life, we don’t except these excuse. We see them as immature and wrong. You need to know the rules. You need to know what’s being injected into your body. You need to pay attention in class, to your team and teammates and friends, and to your family. That is part of being a responsible human being. We don’t like it when people can skate by and not take responsibility for their actions. It makes all of us who do suffer consequences upset.

Yet the NCAA doesn’t seem to realize that. That, or they are so blinded by dead presidents that they are willing to shove the truth under the carpet for a while just so they can protect their interests.

The NCAA is one of the worst-run organizations on the planet. As college sports has become commercialized, the NCAA has gone from a group of schools interested in forging high-level amateur athletics to one that has so many skeletons in the closet, it’d be hard to piece all the bones together if they came all tumbling out at once.

2010 was an especially rough year for the NCAA. It took over four years, but the NCAA finally “wrapped up” its Reggie Bush investigation. They found Bush had received “improper benefits,” forcing Bush to relinquish his Heisman Trophy and USC to vacate over a dozen victories from the ’04 and ’05 seasons. Because that’s the NCAA’s harshest punishment – you can’t hang up banners anymore. We’ll just act like the whole season didn’t happen.

But no, there’s more. The NCAA told banned Southern Cal from bowl games for two seasons and took away 30 scholarships over the next three years. Of course, during the 2005 season (when the “improper benefits” took place), the current USC roster, the kids getting punished for Bush’s mistakes, was playing high school football. Seems pretty fair to the kids, right? Meanwhile, Pete Carroll, who was head coach of the Trojans in ’05, is off coaching the worst playoff team in NFL history. He should be held responsible for not keeping his program clean. Instead, he gets off scot-free.

But this is still understandable. What other choice does the NCAA have? They can’t punish Carroll in Seattle, and they can’t let USC go unscathed here. It was a blatant rule violation. So they have to punish the Trojans in such a matter. The precedent has been set in the past by Alabama and Texas A&M, among others. If only there was a way to get around that rule…

Fast-forward to the fall. Cam Newton and Auburn are running a train over everyone in their sight, vaulting up the polls after coming from seemingly no where. Cam’s father, Cecil, is a pastor at Holy Zion Center of Deliverance. And the church, which, just a year earlier, was seemingly bankrupt and unable to pay for renovations to get it up to code, is now fixed up and fine. Cecil Newton also owns what was a small trucking company that had two drivers. And this year, suddenly, he is so flush with business he needs (and is able) to buy a dozen trucks.

Add that to the claim Kenny Rodgers was making (that Cecil wanted between $100,000 and $180,000 for his son to play at Mississippi State), and the internet rumor mill took off. It intensified when TMZ reported that the FBI was investigating Auburn boosters. The SEC takes its football very seriously, and soon enough, there were forums all over conference message boards about people “in the know” and what they had “uncovered.” The sheer ludicrousness of it all was amazing. An LSU fan site known as “Tiger Droppings” eventually become the go-to place for the newest rumors and juice regarding Cam. Here’s a link detailing everything that Tiger Droppings knew and has assumed to possibly be true over the past two months. It’s a very long read, but absolutely fascinating. The story became so layered that nobody knew what was true. Cam Newton’s eligibility was questioned. Finally, Cecil Newton came out and admitted that he had, indeed, inquired about a pay-for-play scheme with Mississippi State, and had been denied.

He also dropped in two very important “facts” – neither Auburn University nor his own son Cam knew about his conversations with the Mississippi State representative.

Still, even just shopping your kid is illegal, right? At least according to the NCAA by-laws. So now the NCAA was stuck in a predicament. The Tigers were undefeated and heading toward the national championship game. Ruling Cam ineligible was going to be controversial. There was a lot of money at stake. A matchup between Oregon and Auburn is a lot more appealing than Oregon and TCU. And in the scenario that Auburn were to beat South Carolina without Cam in the SEC Championship game, they would not be a team deserving of squaring off with Oregon. Cam is the engine that makes the Tigers go.

But rules had been broken, and the NCAA ruled Newton ineligible for the SEC Championship game. Auburn immediately turned around and appealed to have Newton reinstated, saying that basically, since Newton had no clue about what his father was doing, Newton shouldn’t be punished for it. A classic ignorance excuse.

The NCAA then reinstated Cam Newton.

It was a baffling decision that created a loophole larger than the Grand Canyon. First of all, it’s incredibly hard to believe that Cam had no clue about Cecil’s actions. How could you not know this? The suspicious growth of Cecil’s trucking company and church also raised eyebrows. But there’s no proof connecting illegal money from Auburn to Cecil or Cam, so nothing can be done. Innocent until proven guilty. Cam and the Tigers went onto crush South Carolina in the SEC Championship Game, Cam won the Heisman (and delivered perhaps the most awkward Heisman speech of all-time), and the NCAA was left back-pedaling, trying to explain its inexplicable ruling as anything other than a case of special treatment.

Just when you thought the NCAA couldn’t make a more idiotic decision, Ohio State happens. Five players, including starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor and three other offensive starters, were suspended for selling items such as their Big Ten Championship ring, their Gold Pants (a pin that Buckeyes receive when they beat Michigan), and in Pryor’s case, a sportsmanship award. Whether or not this should be against the rules is a question in itself, but a rule is a rule. Ohio State took the blame, saying that they “didn’t make it clear” to their team in 2008 that selling such items was against NCAA rules. The NCAA took the bait, suspending the players for five games… but letting them play in the Sugar Bowl.

Once again, it was a jaw-dropping decision. Why would the NCAA allow the players to play in the bowl game? The answer is obvious… they want to please ESPN. If the players were suspended for the bowl game, ESPN wasn’t going to get a good matchup. Less eyeballs, less intrigue, less money, etc. Seemingly, the NCAA had played favorites yet again, despite them saying otherwise.

The NCAA may have had a worse year than the Minnesota Vikings. These scandals were enough in itself – the poor handling of them and the PR nightmares that came of it added to the fire. Add in the tournament expansion talks and the continued cry for a FBS playoff, and the PR people have got their hands full.

But go ahead and ask them if they’ve noticed the heat they’ve gotten from the media. Guarantee their answer is “we didn’t know.”

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About aarongernes

Well, I like TV and movies and I love sports. So expect a lot about that.
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