At some point this afternoon, I will hit the “Enter” key on my computer and send my vote for the Heisman Trophy, American sport’s most prestigious individual honor, to the fine numbers-crunchers at Deloitte & Touche. It is a privilege I have enjoyed since 2004 and one of the most cherished duties I perform in my capacity as a writer and broadcaster.
Every time I cast my ballot, I do so with a sharp eye on the Trophy’s unique place in the American sporting culture. There are those who argue the Heisman has lost significance, but anyone who watches the ceremony and sees the distinguished lineup of former winners assembled to welcome the latest conscript into their unique fraternity understands it remains a tremendous tribute. The Heisman is more than a symbol of individual excellence. It signifies the sport’s great history and tradition. You may not think Eric Crouch and Jason White and Gino Torretta belong on the same list with Roger Staubach, Archie Griffin and Herschel Walker, but they are all Heisman winners, and therefore deserve the respect and esteem the award confers upon them. Heisman winners are special, just like the award itself.
And that’s why I’m not voting for Cam Newton this year.
You won’t find the Auburn QB on my ballot at all — and not because his play on the field has disqualified him from consideration. In fact, he is the best college football player this season and will probably win the Heisman whether I vote for him or not. Newton has been outstanding, and his six-TD performance (four passing, two running) against South Carolina was an emphatic exclamation point on a tremendous year. But the Heisman is not just about great play. It’s also about whether a candidate deserves to be included with the game’s greats and is worthy of what the Heisman means to the sport.
My vote this year is a vote for the trophy. It is designed to protect the Heisman and what it means. If doing that deprives Newton of a spot among the award’s list of luminaries, so be it. I just can’t allow the trophy, which has been sullied in the past year by revelations that 2005 winner Reggie Bush had received more than a half-million in cash and prizes from a prospective agent, absorb another body blow. I voted for Bush — twice. But this isn’t about me and whether I felt deceived by Bush’s behavior. This is about whether the Heisman can afford to take another hit without becoming a sad metaphor for the state of college athletics.
Newton’s troubles started earlier this fall, when reports surfaced that his father, Cecil, had been shopping the quarterback’s services — allegedly — throughout the SEC. When Mississippi State balked at the price (or the idea of paying said price), it reported the Newtons to the NC2A. Reports of conversations between the Newtons and schools and their supposed go-betweens and schools surfaced daily. Finally, last week, the NC2A announced that Newton was allowed to play for the Tigers, a day after secretly determining he was not eligible. The hilarious part of this came when the organization tried to convince us that all was fine with the quarterback, even though an investigation into the allegations continued, and even though the NC2A determined Cecil Newton had indeed shopped his son around. We were supposed to believe Cam Newton knew nothing about his father’s activities, even though it was reported that he told a Mississippi State coach he wasn’t choosing the school because “the money was too much” at Auburn. If there had been a payoff, Newton may not have seen all or even some of it, but if his family was receiving improper benefits from a school, NC2A precedent (see Bush, Reggie) holds that the player and the program should be punished. By the way, if you believe Cam Newton knew nothing about his father’s business dealings, good luck with that $100 million payout you’ll be receiving from the Nigerian prince that e-mailed you last week.
This couldn’t possibly be about the Tigers’ perfect season, could it? The NC2A wouldn’t be trying to make sure nothing stood in the way of a “national championship” meeting between Auburn and Oregon (hello, ratings basement), would it? Even though the NC2A doesn’t administer the ridiculous, borderline-criminal BCS system, it’s in the organization’s best interests to make sure a member school has the opportunity to play for the “title,” the better to keep it happy and prevent a later exodus by it and its big-time brethren looking to control their own destinies — and paydays. In a move that made FIFA look honest, the NC2A and the SEC ruled Newton eligible while acknowledging that his father had tried to cash in on his son’s talents. By running everything through the father, the Newton family was able to deny that Cam ever “asked” for money. Even if Cam Newton didn’t receive a dime, and his father did, Auburn should be smacked with probation.
Cam Newton will play for Auburn Jan. 10 in Glendale, AZ. He might some day be cleared completely of any allegations through the NC2A’s investigation. The Tigers may escape penalty because no paper trail will be found that puts a six-figure payment in Cecil Newton’s hands. Or, the whole 2010 season could come crashing down upon Newton and Auburn some time in the next two months, two years or two decades. While we wait, I’m not willing to take a chance with the Heisman’s storied past or promising future by casting my vote into such muddied waters.
The Heisman is an American sporting treasure, and it doesn’t deserve to be exposed again.
• Anybody who thinks the Eagles shouldn’t pay DeSean Jackson top-shelf wideout money because he isn’t a “complete” receiver had better ask himself how many other NFL targets can do what he can. The answer: maybe five. Jackson deserves the big bucks.
• It’s unfortunate Temple didn’t get a bowl bid, but by losing to Ohio, Miami (OH) and Northern Illinois, the Owls torpedoed their chances greatly. For a school that doesn’t travel well, wins are the key to the post-season. Had the Owls won one of those three games, they probably would have been invited.
• Nobody can get mad at Jayson Werth for accepting the Nationals’ ridiculous offer. If Washington wants to pay $126 million for a number-five hitter, Werth must run to D.C. Now, it’s time for Ruben Amaro to start working and find the Phillies a righthanded bat.