Cam Newton and College Football’s “Neo-plantation”

Pity the sports columnist who reaches for sanctimony in the Gomorrah of college football. Two voters for the 2010 Heisman Trophy, the sport’s top award, have announced that they won’t vote for Auburn quarterback Cam Newton because of their moral qualms about Newton’s “integrity.” Their names are Mike Bianchi and Michael Bradley and they are profiles in hypocrisy. Bianchi and Bradley have decided to publicly shun Newton even though he has had by far the best season in the sport. Newton led the South Eastern Conference in rushing from the quarterback position and became the second player in NCAA history to throw and run for 20 touchdowns, all while leading Auburn to a perfect record.

 

As Bianchi sniffed from his column in the Orlando Sentinel,

“Here we have Cam Newton, a player who left the University of Florida amid allegations of academic fraud and after he was found with a stolen laptop computer and threw it out the window when police arrived; a player whose recruitment is being investigated by the NCAA and the FBI; a player whose father Cecil, according to the NCAA, tried to sell his son’s services to the highest bidder (but, um, Cam supposedly knew nothing about it.)..If Newton wins the Heisman, the trophy should be recast in honor of Cam’s dad. The guy on top of trophy shouldn’t have his arm out; he should have his hand out.”

       

This is rich coming from Mike Bianchi, who has proven himself over the years to be a proud human bidet for Orlando Magic owner Dick DeVos. When the multi-billionaire DeVos took over 400 million dollars in public funds for the Magic’s new arena, Bianchi wasn’t blasting DeVos for “having his hand out.” Instead he called it a "magical sign of the times.” Apparently what’s magical for the owner’s box becomes graft when performed by the rabble on the field.  The difference is that Newton has actually been cleared by the NCAA of wrongdoing while DeVos fleeced Florida in full view of the populace.

 

But apparently the “integrity” of the Heisman trophy demands that Newton be punished for even the hint of impropriety. Yes, they must protect the integrity of an award that’s been won by players from an array of schools – Miami, Nebraska, Oklahoma, USC – that have greased more palms than the US Chamber of Commerce. As sportswriter Kent Sterling wrote, “College athletics has been rife with corruption for as long as big crowds have paid to watch. I doubt there are ten Heisman Trophy winners who didn’t get more than tuition and room & board, and most probably got a hell of a lot more than that.”

        

But even if Newton showed up at Auburn wearing a jockstrap sewed together with hundred dollar bills, so what? The very structure of NCAA football has bred more malfeasance than George and Barbara Bush. Cam Newton, by leading Auburn to the national title game will be making his conference, the SEC, more than $18 million. His school Auburn will be selling out of “authentic” jerseys emblazoned with his name. His coach Gene Chizik, who makes a base salary of $2.1 million, gets a $500,000 bonus for making it to the big dance. Boosters will open their checkbooks to support the program. Cam Newton? He is just hoping he doesn’t get injured.

      

This is madness. We’d do well to remember the words of Walter Byers, the executive director of the NCAA from 1952 to 1987, who said to writer Steve Wulf, "The coaches own the athletes' feet, the colleges own the athletes' bodies, and the supervisors retain the large rewards. That reflects a neo-plantation mentality on the campuses." Byers' believed that "the wheel of fortune is badly unbalanced in favor of the overseers and against the players."  

     

Since Byers’ time, the money and the stakes have just grown higher. Now Division I college football has become like a big dice game. If your team does well, everyone gets paid. If it falters, good luck keeping the lights on especially in these tough economic times. As the Knight Commission of College Presidents reported last October, the twenty-five top football schools had revenues, on average, of $3.9 million. The other ninety-four schools ran deficits averaging $9.9 million.

“We’ve reached an indefensible, unsustainable situation,” said commission co-chair William Kirwan. It makes landing—and keeping happy—players of Newton’s caliber the most almighty imperative. It also means scapegoating the Cam Newtons of the world to save Byers’ “neo-plantation.” It reminds me of a famous phrase about the criminal justice system: it captures the minnows while the whales go free. NCAA football is one whale that rots from the head.


[Dave Zirin is the author of “Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games we Love” (Scribner) Receive his column every week by emailing dave@edgeofsports.com. Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com.]

16 Reader Comments | Add a comment

Cam for Heisman?

Should the NCAA stop the facade of "amateur status" in college football, which forces schools to tip-toe the line until they get caught ? I think so. However, Cam Newton (and A.J. Green, and UNC, and Reggie Bush, etc.) are big boys, and regardless of how silly the system is currently, they knew what they were doing was breaking the rules. And the bending of the rules by others does not justify everyone else doing it too. I wholly agree that the system needs changing, but that hardly calls for an endorsement of known delinquency. Rampant steroid use in recent decades in baseball, for instance, does not mean we should omit the dreaded "asterisk" in the record books for Barry Bonds. The size of the temptation does not justify falling prey to it.

And I find your statement that Newton has "been cleared of wrongdoing" to be a critical oversimplification. That ruling, in which the NCAA cleared Cam because they could not definitively prove he knew anything about the money requests, despite the discovered activities of his father, sets a terrible precedent. Now, as long as its an athlete's cousin, coach, uncle, girlfriend, or barber soliciting donations, and the athlete "isn't aware," it's OK by the NCAA. So I see Cam "cleared" of wrongdoing much as O. J. Simpson was "cleared" of murder.

Otherwise, I'm a big fan of your writing, and I enjoy your sports tidbits.

Excellent

Excellent article, Dave...

Zirin is a shameless opportunist

According to Comrade Zirin, the entire Notre Dame football team should have their program ended because of an ALLEGATION against ONE player. But now Zirin champions himself as a defender against allegations.

Comrade Zirin, have you no sense of shame?

Great Article

Dave, I've enjoyed reading your stuff and hearing you on the radio...you are quick to expose the ones who deserve the blame...not the crap the media feeds us. Anyone not in favor of these KIDS needs to get off their high horse. All the KIDS have is their health...if the system is not right, why do we blindly follow? Dave, I appreciate you shining light where its dark...

zarin, zarin...

it is not a plantation.
also, i dont think you would say anything if a white qb with same numbers was getting this sort of treatment.


again, zarin, you make seem to want to make yourself the authortty of what is and isnt a black man and seem to have this idea that they all need to be "angry black man".


you come across as someone who didnt meet an actual black person until you were 15 or so and think every black person has to act like an idiot like soulja boy.

zarin, zarin...

it is not a plantation.
also, i dont think you would say anything if a white qb with same numbers was getting this sort of treatment.


again, zarin, you make seem to want to make yourself the authortty of what is and isnt a black man and seem to have this idea that they all need to be "angry black man".


you come across as someone who didnt meet an actual black person until you were 15 or so and think every black person has to act like an idiot like soulja boy.

NCAA is Corrupt so it's ok to be Corrupt

Dave:

This time I have to disagree with your argument that suggests because the NCAA is corrupt--a claim I do agree with--therefore it's ok for a corrupt player to win the 2010 Heisman Trophy. Or put another way: the NCAA is rotten so it's ok to reward a rotten player (since many of them are rotten).

Then again, to single out one player, almost always a qb or rb) doesn't make much sense either.

NCAA is Corrupt so it's ok to be Corrupt

Dave:

This time I have to disagree with your argument that suggests because the NCAA is corrupt--a claim I do agree with--therefore it's ok for a corrupt player to win the 2010 Heisman Trophy. Or put another way: the NCAA is rotten so it's ok to reward a rotten player (since many of them are rotten).

Then again, to single out one player, almost always a qb or rb) doesn't make much sense either.

Sign of the Times

It's not necessarily an issue of what Newton (his father, not Cam, apparently) did, but it's that so many more hypocritical and corrupt things occur without even 1/100 of the discourse occurring. It's really not worth that much debate.

What I would like to see happen is two things:

1) As with what happened with the Broncos last week, punish organizations for failing to report violations rather than allow organizations to hide them until they are caught or can use their knowledge opportunistically. I am not sure exactly how the Newton thing went down, but it seems that people at Miss State had knowledge of the deal. Punish Miss State for failing to report the matter in a timely matter. This way, they will also be on the hook for any impropriety and we, the public, will not need to wait until someone becomes the Heisman frontrunner before investigations begin.

2) programs that commit recruiting violations, such as USC recently, should be blacked out from television broadcasting for a certain period. While missing a bowl sucks, not receiving TV revenue could debilitate a university more. It would also grossly affect the violator's conference, opponents, and recruiting (since players would not get any attention during the season). There would be more eyes watching these violating schools and players of violating schools will probably tend to take the transfer option more often.

easy marks

Sportswriters love to make the sports fan look at the athlete like he is the root of all evil in sport. Even if Cam took money or was offering his services, is it any more of a crime than wealthy sports team owners bleeding dry cities of millions upon millions of dollars so they don't have to waste any more of their own money than they have to? The blood, sweat and tears that these young men give means very little or nothing to the wealthy men who control the sports they play. So many fans are not sophisticated enough to understand that this is all a pimp game.

abdul

just because some might do something, or are perceived to b doing something wrong, does not give them the right to do a wrong action as well.

Where is the outrage

My question is where is the real outrage about the University of Florida leaking Newton's confidetial info? last I checked thats a federal crime. Not to mention its very convient that Miss State only came forward after Newton and Auburn began to do well, not to mention they counldn't have been too pleased about him going to another SEC team, and don't get me started on this Kenny Rodgers character. It all sound very convient if you ask me.

Moral Equivalency

I think Zirirn's argument here is pretty weak. Well, everybody'd cheating so it's all "ok?"

First of all, nobody has "cleared" Cam Newton - of anything. The eventual revocation of his eligibility seems almost a foregone conclusion (Reggie Bush wasn't declared ineligible until long after his playing days either).

It's certainly hypocritical to punish him w/o punishing Missisippi State - a program that really seems to have asked only "how do you want the money?" and only got upset about it when Auburn (obviously) outbid them. And of course, Florida should be sanctioned if they violated FERPA.

Unfortunately, the solution to this is make the bowl money and football tv money go through the NCAA rather than the individual schools, conferences, and the BCS. There's a lot less incentive to cheat when the money is shared with everyone rather than a few gluttons hogging the pie.

PS - this corruption is mirrored throughout our society, so do we not punish any criminals because none of us are blameless?

Cam Newton, Dad and NCAA Football

Dan Wetzel's most recent article brought up the double standard of NCAA and student athletes.

At very least the NCAA should have a fund to compensate student athletes whose play gains them consideration for pro draft yet whose injuries preclude playing pro football.

The double standard of athletics is alive and well. Sic 'em Dave!

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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