By MATTHEW STEVENS
The drama surrounding Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton continues to come at a rapid pace.
In the last 24 hours, the Tigers signal caller has been linked to academic fraud allegations, an apparent FBI investigation and a new allegation that includes a play-for-pay situation.
During the Southeastern Conference media teleconference, Auburn head coach Gene Chizik was firm in his statement that Newton would be in the lineup Saturday when his undefeated Tigers traveled to play at Georgia.
“Cameron Newton will be playing Saturday against the Georgia Bulldogs and I want to get that off the table," Chizik said before being asked any questions.
The new development in that game is that some Las Vegas sports books have stopped taking bets on the contest game amid uncertainty about Newton’s status.
Jay Rood, sports book director at the MGM Mirage in Las Vegas, said the game was taken off the board when increased betting on Georgia was spotted.
“We want to make sure the market value is right,” Rood said in an interview with Bloomberg News. “We don’t want to be looking back on it Saturday as something that we were giving away like a blue-light special.”
Late Tuesday evening, an ESPN.com report written by Joe Schad citing multiple unnamed sources alleges that Cecil Newton and his son Cam admitted in separate phone conversations to a play-for-pay plan.
Schad’s article, which has five unnamed sources in the first four paragraphs without any new relevant information, uses the phrase ‘Two sources who recruit for Mississippi State’ - in the first sentence. Under the guidelines of the NCAA rulebook a certified ‘recruiter’ must be a coach on staff or an official given that status by the NCAA Clearinghouse.
The second paragraph of the ESPN.com report includes this line: ‘Mississippi State compliance officials relayed the alleged conversations to Southeastern Conference compliance officials in January, according to two other sources close to the football program.’
Late Wednesday afternoon, Mississippi State University released a statement confirming the school contacted the Southeastern Conference office last January about the matter.
“Due to MSU dealing with ongoing and time-consuming eligibility issues involving non-football matters in the winter and spring of 2010, the specific SEC request went unfulfilled,” the university’s statement reads. “Some additional information was provided to the SEC during July of 2010. Once the NCAA enforcement staff became involved, Mississippi State University cooperated fully with its investigation.”
Southeastern Conference officials had no comment on Mississippi State’s statement.
Early Monday afternoon a report from Fox Sports.net citing one unnamed source that Newton had three different instances of academic cheating while attending the University of Florida and faced potential expulsion from the university.
This leak of an academic fraud charge caused Chizik to open his media session Tuesday with a comment defending his quarterback.
“I want to make this very clear, because I’m wasting my time addressing allegations that completely, to be frank, blow my mind that they’re even out there because there are federal privacy laws that dictate that these things don’t even get out in public,” Auburn’s second-year head coach said. “But I’m standing up here on a very important week trying to defend something that quite frankly is garbage. Is there a wizard behind the curtain? I don’t know. Is there one? Is there two? Are there 10? I don’t know, and I don’t care.”
This speech from Chizik caused Florida head coach Urban Meyer to be a suspect of who leaked the information Newton’s academic issues while at UF but Meyer refuted those claims in this statement released through the Gators athletic department.
“Our entire focus right now is on preparing for our biggest game of the year against South Carolina,” Meyer’s statement read. “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. It’s a ridiculous claim and simply not true.”
Later on Tuesday afternoon, TMZSports.com had a report that the attorney of John Bond confirmed the FBI has requested a sit-down meeting with his client. Minutes after that report was published, The Starkville Daily News asked Bond’s only attorney Phil Abernethy and the Jackson-based lawyer couldn’t comment on the TMZSports.com article other than to say “that information came from another source.”
After Tuesday’s practice, the Starkville Daily News got a response from Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen on the newest information that has surfaced.
Here’s what the Bulldogs second-year head coach said about the situation
“I’m a big Cam Newton fan,” Mullen said. “I care about Cam Newton a lot. He was one of my former players. For me to leak out, what do I have to gain on any of this? It’s absolutely ludicrous. We have more issues on our hands getting ready to play Alabama than whatever is going on with everybody else.”