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Your Fall 2010 NCAA Penalty Scoreboard

In case you were keeping track:

[table id=54 /]

Yeah, that looks about right.

Unless you spent Wednesday under a rock, or were still inconsolable about UNC's basketball fortunes, then you probably saw the NCAA's head-scratching ruling on presumptive Heisman-winner Cam Newton, quarterback for the Auburn Tigers. Rumors have been swirling for a while now that Newton's father had been seeking significant amounts of money during Newton's recruitment last year (Newton had been a junior college quarterback).

On Tuesday, in a procedural move UNC fans know all too well by this point, Auburn declared Newton ineligible. And by mid-day Wednesday, the NCAA declared Cam Newton eligible to play but disclosed that Cecil Newton, Cam's father, had sought money for his son's recruitment at Mississippi State. The NCAA further said that there was no evidence that neither Auburn nor Cam Newton had any knowledge of Cecil Newton's activities and therefore had met all the requirements for eligibility.

Suspending disbelief for a moment that neither Auburn nor Cam Newton knew Cecil Newton was pimping out his son's services, this sets a remarkable precedent for the NCAA - if the student-athlete didn't know, it's OK. As THF said in a brilliant tweet, "so some recruiting visit in the future father says 'Son, could you step out of the room while Daddy & Coach talk business? Thanks.'"

But beyond precedent, the Cam Newton situation strikes to the heart of the credibility of the NCAA. The NCAA is often wildly inconsistent in its rulings anyway (see chart above) and it is hard to view this decision as anything other than one driven by the fact that Newton is the Heisman front-runner and with a win this weekend, Auburn will be playing for the national championship. There is a reason for the famous quote, often attributed to frequent NCAA scofflaw Jerry Tarkanian, that says "the NCAA was so mad at Kentucky (basketball) they extended Cleveland State's probation for two years."

The Newton scenario is about as egregious as it gets. Pay-to-play is one of college sports' (and particularly college football's) original sins. UNC's agent dabblings are chicken scratch compared to this. For that matter, if the $180,000 figure is true, that exceeds the dollar figure given to the Reggie Bush situation at USC.

So, in light of UNC's current unpleasantness with the NCAA, how should the Cam Newton situation be viewed? I don't think you can draw any comparison whatsoever. The scenarios are not exactly analogous other than in a few areas. There is the obvious inconsistency between the penalties assigned to Marcell Dareus, A.J. Green, Deunta Williams, and Kendric Burney; and between Greg Little, Robert Quinn, and Josh Selby for similar amounts of benefits. There is also the "it's OK because Cam didn't know" escape clause, but Deunta Williams, who paid for his own way to California twice, didn't know that crashing at Omar Brown's house was an improper benefit, and A.J. Green didn't know Chris Hawkins had been declared an ALC. Yet in their cases both were told ignorance was no excuse. There is also the fact that the NCAA reinstatement committee issued a ruling on Newton in half a day, while UNC players seemingly waited much longer for reinstatement decisions and appeals for that matter. Well, there is that pesky SEC title game on Saturday, you know. Wouldn't want Newton to miss a practice or anything.

No, the greater lesson to be drawn from the Cam Newton situation as it relates to UNC is that there is no way to predict how the Carolina football situation will ultimately turn out. Pundits have tried to draw conclusions based on other cases and precedents, and those predictions range from a slap on the wrist to severe sanctions. But the Newton ruling shows you just never know. You can bet USC is pretty steamed right now; then again, if the Bush allegations were found out in the middle of a Trojan title run, would USC have received the same break Auburn is getting now?

Just to reiterate, it has always been the editorial stance here at THF that if NCAA rules were broken, then consequences must occur, and the Newton decision doesn't change that stance as it relates to UNC football. But we have also hoped that the NCAA would deal with individual players and with the entire program fairly and consistently, and that does not appear to have happened. The haphazard way in which the NCAA enforces and governs makes it far too easy to call into question its motivations. Some, like Michael Wilbon of PTI, have gone so far as to suggest the Newton ruling is designed to bolster the BCS and deny TCU a title shot, which they would most surely get if Newton was suspended or declared ineligible and Auburn's undefeated season vacated. Others have suggested that if Auburn was not positioned to play for the national championship and were a 7-5 team, then the NCAA would drop the hammer.

There is no way I would dare try to identify the NCAA's motivations in the Cam Newton fiasco. But it is pretty clear that the "new, tougher NCAA" that was supposed to come under incoming president Mark Emmert sure looks like the old, bumbling NCAA when faced with this potentially explosive situation.