Cam Newton’s talent, alibi both hard to believe

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.

Consider this: You are a star junior college football recruit about to make one of the most important decisions of your life, one that will shape your future and potentially determine whether you enjoy a professional career defined by fame and fortune.

Your father is so involved, so intimately connected to what you will do, he begins shopping you to Division I teams. He demands close to $200,000. He holds meetings, takes telephone calls, discusses the situation with others over a period of months.

And not once does he breathe a word of it to you. Not one sentence about the options or money being floated. Not one wink, one hint, one indication, one suggestion.

If you believe that, then you believe Cam Newton and consider his Heisman Trophy and possible win in tonight’s Bowl Championship Series final as honors earned in a legitimate and truthful manner.

And that’s your right.

I don’t believe it for a second. Never have.

I don’t believe the good pastor Cecil Newton Sr. controlled his son’s collegiate choice in such a deceptive way without once alerting the quarterback where he would be running an offense and potentially for how much.

I don’t believe a player who reportedly always wanted to attend Mississippi State, thought he would, expected to, and then signed with Auburn without having a clue about his father’s cheating ways.

Which is what the NCAA wants us to believe. Which is ridiculous.

It will be a silent but certain sentiment hanging over University of Phoenix Stadium should Auburn beat Oregon and Newton stand with his teammates as national champions.

Most won’t care, but shouldn’t we just a little?

Cam Newton is a fabulous player and by all accounts here this week, a charismatic, intelligent, amusing young man. His teammates describe him as an 8-year old in a giant’s body. They say never once has his demeanor changed, not during the highs of winning a Heisman or the lows of being investigated for those pay-for-play transgressions.

He is big, athletic, powerful, fast, incredibly skilled.

“When he walked out the first day of practice (at Auburn), we all said, ‘Wow, we hope he plays as good as he looks,’ ” Tigers coach Gene Chizik said. “He has the heart of a child. He is a great guy, a team guy. Cameron knows (tonight) is a huge game. He expects to play well.”

He should. He’s the best player in the sport’s biggest game.

But there is a bigger picture to the Cam Newton tale, for it defines the laughable and increasingly inconsistent manner by which the NCAA assigns punishment when such violations arise.

The case of Reggie Bush at Southern California. The case of North Carolina players and agents. The case of Ohio State players accepting improper benefits and yet still being allowed to participate in the Sugar Bowl.

More and more, the NCAA has become a model for arbitrarily assigning blame based on how it might directly influence the bottom line that is the big business of college athletics. It vigorously contests this opinion. Too bad.

Look. None of this is nice and tidy. There isn’t a football program around that doesn’t commit some level of violation every season. Same in basketball and most other NCAA sports. None. It’s almost impossible not to given the ridiculously large and at times confusing statutes within that tome they call a rules book.

Cecil Newton shops his kid for a few hundred grand and it’s obvious cheating while Nike czar Phil Knight can spend hundreds of millions of dollars on facilities and other eye-popping amenities to entice recruits to Oregon and it’s OK. The entire system is a mess.

But in the specific context of this game and this star quarterback, the idea of watching Newton celebrate a national title tonight would feel a little like watching Mark McGwire hit a 500-foot home run. You marvel at the athletic prowess. You’re also pretty sure it’s tainted, and that part prevents you from enjoying the moment.

“I consider all that happened (this season) a blessing,” Newton said. “The process made me stronger. It opened my eyes about who is there for me.”

It would be like me moving my family to Russia tomorrow and never returning. About the plans being in place for months and yet never saying a word about it to our two school-aged children. About waking them, dressing them, handing each a copy of Tolstoy’s greatest works and heading to the airport. About them not having a clue what is happening.

If you could believe that, you believe Cam Newton. That is your right.

I can’t.

I don’t.

I never did.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can also be heard from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday and Thursday on “Monsters of the Midday,” Fox Sports Radio 920 AM.

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