Newton, Bush set dangerous precedent for college athletes

December 13, 2010 — by Will Edman

As a new decade dawns in the sports world, a major issue has arisen that has caused major college football to be tarred with controversy: pay-for-play scandals.

This past summer, former USC running back Reggie Bush was revealed to have received money during his 2005 Heisman Trophy-winning season, incurring a postseason ban and a loss of scholarships on his alma mater. Additionally, in an October issue of Sports Illustrated, former players’ agent Josh Luchs revealed that payment of players was commonplace among agents.

Both events involved past incidents, but the issue was exacerbated when the NCAA launched an investigation into whether current Auburn quarterback and leading Heisman Trophy candidate Cam Newton was paid by his school.

According to allegations, Newton’s father Cecil requested payment from Mississippi State while Newton was being recruited, and while Cam denies any such contact, the evidence against Cecil is incontrovertible.

On Dec. 2, the NCAA ruled that Newton was not aware of his father’s action and was thus eligible for the remainder of the season. Therefore, Newton will inevitably win the Heisman Trophy. However, this controversy highlights a bigger issue in college sports that seems to be more conspicuous than anyone would have earlier imagined.

The NCAA must take action, and the most effective strategy for governing body and universities to take would be to implement a whistle-blower system, where athletes could flag their contemporaries without any worry of backlash, and timely action could be taken.

The NCAA’s current method, which involves investigations after the player payment has already happened, and often after the player has left college, is ineffective, as no on-field punishment can be inflicted on a former student. In Bush’s case, sanctions on USC were not inflicted until five years after the fact. Neither Bush nor former coach Pete Carroll are any longer associated with the school. As a result, new coach Lane Kiffin must suffer through NCAA punishment for years while enjoys a Super Bowl victory with the New Orleans Saints NFL team. Obviously, this is neither practical or effective in preventing player payment.

Instead, the NCAA needs to act in a preemptive way so that the issue of player payment does not increase exponentially, as that of steroids in baseball did in the past decade.

However, this could be nearly impossibly difficult thanks to the recent ruling on Newton. When the NCAA only incriminated Cecil Newton and declared his son without fault, it set a precedent where players can use scapegoats and escape without any major damage on themselves. In the past, student-athletes were often held responsible for their accomplices’ actions because under-the-table actions such as pay-for-play schemes almost never involve a university giving money directly to a student.

However, the NCAA overlooked this in Newton’s situation, perhaps fearing a significant loss of profit if Newton was declared ineligible. No matter the reason, authorities must revisit and reverse this decision so that other friends, families and agents of other players cannot take the fall in pay-for-play scandals.

Student-athletes have no right to an income at the expense of other college students, especially since they are already on scholarship. If college authorities take action immediately and thoroughly, player payment can be stopped before it spreads beyond football and into other sports.

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