AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — The Auburn Tigers found themselves defending quarterback Cam Newton for the second time in five days, this time adamantly sticking up for the Heisman hopeful in the wake of allegations of academic cheating when he was at Florida.
More accusations surfaced Tuesday night when ESPN reported on its website that Newton and his father each had a phone conversation with a Mississippi State recruiter that acknowledged a pay-for-play arrangement for the prized recruit.
Hours before ESPN posted the story, Tigers coach Gene Chizik dismissed the academic cheating report as “pure garbage” in an emotional 4-minute, 25-second rant.
“I’m standing up here on a very important week trying to defend something that’s garbage,” Chizik said. The second-ranked Tigers face rival Georgia on Saturday, and that’s where Newton insists his focus lies.
Foxsports.com reported Monday that Newton was caught cheating three times and was to appear for a hearing in front of Florida’s Student Committee facing possible expulsion during the spring semester of 2009.
According to the ESPN report, one of the recruiters said Cecil Newton told him before Cam Newton committed to Auburn that it would take “more than a scholarship” for his son to attend Mississippi State. An unidentified source told ESPN that another recruiter received a phone call from an emotional Cam Newton after he committed to the Tigers, when he said his father selected Auburn for him because “the money was too much.”
ESPN, citing two other unidentified sources close to the football program, also reported Mississippi State compliance officials relayed the alleged conversations to Southeastern Conference compliance officials in January.
Newton transferred from Florida to Blinn Junior College in Brenham, Texas, where he played last season. He declined to discuss the Foxsports.com report, which came on the heels of former Mississippi State quarterback John Bond saying someone claiming to represent the Newton family sought money during his recruitment by the school.
“I’m not going to entertain something that took place not three months, not six months, not a year but two years ago,” Newton said. “I’m not going to sit up here and say anything about it, whether I did or did not do it, because I don’t want to beat a dead horse talking about it. It’s not going to affect me any way, shape or fashion.”
It didn’t against FCS opponent Chattanooga last weekend, when he passed for four touchdowns and 317 yards, all in the first half.
Georgia coach Mark Richt is expecting Newton’s best again.
“All that stuff was swirling last week and it didn’t bother him,” Richt said. “Usually when a guy starts playing ball or even practicing ball, it doesn’t matter what’s going on away from the field. That’s a haven for an athlete. He gets a chance to be in his element and shut everything out, shut the world out, just go have fun and play some ball.”
Newton has denied doing anything wrong in his recruitment. A person familiar with the situation has told The Associated Press that the university has received no letter of inquiry from the NCAA and that an internal review of phone and e-mail records showed no contact with Kenny Rogers, whom ESPN.com cited as the man who approached Bond.
The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to publicly discuss the matter, said the university also found nothing improper in the personal and church bank records of Newton’s father, an Atlanta pastor.
Minutes before Cam Newton addressed the media Tuesday, Chizik used his opening statement for a lengthy defense of his biggest star. He declined to answer questions about the academic situation.
“I’m wasting my time addressing allegations that blow my mind that they’re even out there, because there’s federal privacy laws that dictate that these things don’t get out in public,” he said.
Chizik described Newton as a “great human being that comes from a great family” and backed up his quarterback’s Heisman Trophy credentials as well as his character.
“He’s one of the leaders in the Heisman race because he deserves it. That’s fact,” Chizik said.
Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs also defended Newton from the latest accusation in a strongly worded statement. He reiterated that the quarterback is eligible.
“These allegations and rumors about Cam Newton are unfortunate and sad because they seem intent on tearing down the reputation of a young man who has done everything we’ve asked him to do,” Jacobs said. “Cam has been and continues to be completely honest with us. Cam is, by all accounts, a great kid.”
Foxsports.com reported that Newton turned in another student’s paper with his name on it and handed in another paper that was later found to have been purchased off the Internet.
Jacobs said he couldn’t talk about Newton’s academic records because that would violate privacy laws.
“We will not go down that path or stoop to that level as others have apparently done,” he said, adding “emphatically” that he remains eligible.
Newton was arrested at Florida in November 2008 for having a stolen laptop. The charges were dropped last December when he completed a pretrial intervention program for first-time offenders.
Asked if the latest round of accusations bothered him, Newton said: “Am I hurt? No. Am I curious? A little bit, but it really doesn’t get to me that much. I’m a blessed individual.”
He also said he’s not concerned about seeing anybody punished who’s accused of soliciting money.
“For what? That’s not me,” Newton said. “The people that I have been faced with up to this point have been good people. I’m not here to bash anyone for what they said or what they did or what they allegedly did. I’m not here to do that. I’m here to go to school and win football games.”
Newton’s father, Cecil, declined comment on the academic allegations when reached by AP, saying his “voice will be presented either through me or somebody else at a later time.”
Cecil Newton did talk about the allegations earlier Tuesday on Paul Finebaum’s syndicated sports talk radio show in Alabama.
“This is a character assassination attempt,” he said on the show. “Who is going to profit and why are they are going to profit? We sure don’t.
“I think there’s a group of people who have a hidden agenda and don’t want to see him as a Heisman nominee, let alone winner.”
In Gainesville, Florida coach Urban Meyer said in a statement that neither he nor anyone on his staff leaked information on Newton’s academic record, calling it a “ridiculous claim.”
Meyer said, “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.”
Newton said Meyer was a man of integrity. “I would hope he wouldn’t say anything like that,” he said.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who also recruited Newton out of Blinn, said he saw “nothing at all” out of the ordinary during that process.
“Our recruitment of Cameron could not have been better, or was just fine,” Stoops said. “I didn’t notice anything and none of our coaches did as we were recruiting him.”
AP Sports Writer Mark Long in Gainesville, Fla.; Jeff Latzke in Norman, Okla., and Paul Newberry in Athens, Ga., contributed to this report.
JOHN ZENOR / The Associated Press