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Cam Newton: College Football’s Junk Bond

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You may recall in the movie The Wedding Singer, a particular scene where Julia (Drew Barrymore) refers to her fiance’s line of work as being “in junk bonds.” Offended, her fiance Glenn (Matthew Glave) insists that he is in the business of “high-yield bonds.” Both are technically correct. Junk bonds or speculative-grade bonds are actually high-yield, but they are also high risk. In the realm of college football, Cam Newton is a prime example of a junk bond.

The high-yield aspect of Newton is obvious. He is arguably one of the greatest athletes of the past 20, if not more, years. I recall seeing highlights of him back when he was playing second string to Tim Tebow. And I thought to myself: “This guy could be just as good as Tebow!” I was wrong. Newton is better than Tebow.

At 6’6″ and 250 pounds, Newton is built to be the perfect athlete. Dual-threat quarterbacks, in spite of their dual capability, still typically have some form of weakness in either running or passing. Newton doesn’t. I could go on and on about his stats or his abilities, but I think the picture is quite clear: Cam Newton is one of the best players in college football.

But what about the risk? How could anyone go wrong with such a talented player? That’s where Newton’s history comes in.

Cameron Newton started his collegiate career at Florida in 2007. His obvious skill earned him the second string spot over fellow quarterback John Brantley while Tim Tebow was the starter for the Gators. While at Florida, Newton developed a relationship with offensive coordinator Dan Mullen, who would later become the head coach of Mississippi State.

But in the fall of 2008, Newton was arrested on felony charges of burglary, larceny and obstruction of justice after he was found to be in possession of a stolen laptop. When the police arrived to question him about it, Newton tossed the laptop out of his dorm window. According to his story, which was never proven nor corroborated, he had allegedly purchased the laptop from someone in a parking lot.

The charges against Newton were only dropped after he agreed to complete a court-approved pretrial diversion program. In the wake of the scandal, Newton withdrew from Florida and transferred to Blinn College.

After a successful season at Blinn, Newton then transferred to Auburn in early 2010. But Auburn was not his first choice. Dan Mullen, Newton’s offensive coordinator at Florida was now at the helm of Mississippi State and had recruited Newton to play at Starkville. At some point, Newton’s father Cecil requested financial compensation in the ballpark of $180,000 in exchange for his son’s transfer to Mississippi State. Allegedly, Cecil expressed that it would take “more than a scholarship” to bring him to Starkville.

So what made Cecil Newton abandon his request for $180,000 in exchange for Cam attending Mississippi State? That question remains unanswered. According to an ESPN report, Cam told a recruiter that he wanted to go to Mississippi State but that “the money was too much.” Whether Auburn paid Cecil Newton or not, that school has now taken a major risk.

The Auburn family has invested its hopes and dreams in Cam Newton. The traditional Auburn battle cry of “War Damn Eagle!” has now been substituted by some fans as “War Cam Eagle!” At Auburn games, signs range from the altered Obama campaign image “Yes We Cam,” to “Marry Me, Cam!”

Cam-mania is in full swing on the plains. But one of the popular slogans this season, albeit often eclipsed by Cam-related ones, is “Auburn Family, All-In!” Indeed, the Auburn family has gone “all in” on Cam Newton. And although the context is different, someone should remind Auburn that going “all in” can be very dangerous.

Cam Newton isn’t just an emotional “all in” investment for Auburn, he’s a very real gamble that could have serious repercussions for years to come. The reward at stake? A national championship, pride, and bragging rights. What are they risking if Auburn is found to be the guilty party in Newton’s recruitment? Everything. Without question, Auburn would face severe penalties that could significantly damage its football program, perhaps even the dreaded NCAA death penalty.

The old expression goes, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” The smoke can clearly be seen on the plains. And this time, it isn’t because a barn is burning. In the case of Reggie Bush, the fire wasn’t found until years after the alleged wrongdoing took place. In that instance, USC was punished well after Bush had left for the NFL. This begs the question of how soon the NCAA will discover what Auburn’s role was, if any, in its own scandal. 

Indeed, Auburn itself is no stranger to NCAA scandals. In 1991, it was revealed that Auburn had given payments to some of its players. By 1993, the NCAA penalized Auburn with a two-year bowl ban, a one-year television ban, and the loss of 13 scholarships over the course of four years. This also resulted in the departure of head coach Pat Dye in 1992, although Dye is still closely associated with the Auburn football program.

In the south, football is like a religion. The taste of success can easily cloud the better judgment of its practitioners. But if Cam Newton were an investment, Auburn should ask itself: Were the risks worth the rewards, or was going “all in” on a junk bond the biggest mistake of its program? 

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  • “And although the context is different, someone should remind Auburn that going “all in” can be very dangerous.”

    Truer words were never spoken, but they like to live dangerously it seems.
    Great article!