Explaining The Cam Newton Ruling, As Best We Can

We don't know a heck of a lot right now, since the NCAA and Auburn aren't talking. But we can parse the NCAA's statement and try to break down what happened, and what happens next.

Cecil Newton did, in fact, try to get money in exchange for his son's commitment. We all thought that was the only question in play here, but we were wrong. The NCAA concluded that the allegation was true, but won't punish Cam Newton for it.

Newton will play Saturday, and in whichever bowl game the Tigers end up in. It's a done deal. The NCAA has reinstated (very important term) Newton, declared him eligible to play, and that's that for now. Whatever comes next, it's not going to happen before the BCS title game, let alone Heisman voting.

The term used was "reinstated" rather than "cleared" for two important reasons. First is more of a procedural issue that sounds sexy, but isn't: Newton was technically declared ineligible to play yesterday, by Auburn rather than the NCAA. On Monday, this stage of the NCAA's investigation concluded that an amateurism violation had occurred (the solicitation of pay-for-play), and as per their rules, Auburn was forced to declare Newton ineligible. They immediately requested his reinstatement, and today, it was granted.

This doesn't mean it took investigators months to find wrongdoing, and just a day to reverse their decision. The NCAA has been in constant contact with Auburn officials throughout the process, and the university was likely told what their options were if the rules violation was found to have occurred. They would have, in turn, informed the NCAA that they would immediately appeal for Newton's reinstatement, so both sides came in to this week totally prepared. It would surprise me if this outcome hadn't been decided before Monday.

The second reason the NCAA's statement doesn't use the word "cleared" is because Newton isn't. From the NCAA's VP of academic and membership affairs, emphasis mine: "Based on the information available to the reinstatement staff at this time we do not have sufficient evidence that Cam Newton or anyone from Auburn was aware of this activity, which led to his reinstatement."

They know (and believe they can prove) that Cecil Newton demanded money for Cam's commitment, thanks to the Mississippi State evidence. They cannot prove that he made the same demand of Auburn, or that Cam was aware of his father's pay-for-play schemes. This sounds as believable as a hooker not knowing she's being pimped out, but it's not about what probably happened. It's about what can be proven, and as of this moment, it cannot be proven that Cam Newton or Auburn did anything against the rules.

Which doesn't mean that's the way it will stay. The NCAA's statement makes clear that "reinstatement process is likely to conclude prior to the close of an investigation," and the boilerplate caveat that they will not comment on "current, pending or potential investigations." Evidence could emerge at any time that would incriminate Newton and Auburn (although neither side would have any motivation to come forward with anything), and the NCAA could find Newton ineligible. This could happen five years from now, and Auburn's wins and Newton's records and maybe even his awards could be vacated.

It's a dangerous precedent for the NCAA to set: keep the kids in the dark when you're shopping them around. But right now, there's simply not enough evidence on which to act. So Cam Newton plays on, eligible but not "cleared."