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Sunday, January 9, 2011
Kicking it with Auburn's Jay Jacobs, Part II

By Chris Low

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Cam Newton controversy resonated around the college football world for most of the month of November.

The NCAA and Auburn agreed that Newton’s father, Cecil Newton, did engage in a scheme to try and solicit money from Mississippi State.

But after Newton was declared ineligible for a day, he was reinstated by the NCAA and allowed to play after no evidence surfaced that he knew about his father’s actions or that any money ever exchanged hands.

Here’s part II of our Q&A with Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs, who said he was confident all along that Cam Newton had not done anything wrong:

Cam Newton
At no time did Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs think quarterback Cam Newton would miss a game.
Just how difficult was the month of November for you and the Auburn family, and did you know the news was going to get out at some point about Newton’s father trying to shop him to Mississippi State?

Jay Jacobs: I never was consciously braced for it getting out there, but I knew several weeks ahead it was going to get out. In today’s world, there’s no such thing as a secret.

Was it news to you?

JJ: No, it wasn’t news to us. We weren’t surprised by anything.

You knew Newton had been shopped to another school by his father, right?

JJ: We knew there had been an allegation, and as we went through the process, we found out all the facts. Our focus was twofold, to No. 1, make sure the Auburn family knew what they needed to know and to protect them from the things they didn’t need to know. It was the same thing with Cameron, making sure he tells the truth and that we protect Cameron. Those were our two goals, and we feel like we had some success doing that.

When you met with the NCAA right before the Georgia game, did they tell you there was an eligibility issue with Newton?

JJ: The answer to that question is yes. But out of respect to the process, I probably don’t need to talk too much about that. But, yes, that’s why they were there. There was an eligibility question.

So you felt confident enough at that point about what you knew to be the facts of the case that playing Newton wasn’t in any way a gamble?

JJ: No, I never felt like we were rolling the dice. We’re never going to compromise the integrity of our institution, whether it’s me, him or somebody on the widget team. So I never had any concern whatsoever about playing him.

When you declared him ineligible that week of the SEC championship game and then the NCAA reinstated him that next day, were you confident that’s the way it was going to go?

JJ: Based on case precedent, yes. With how those decisions had historically gone, we felt very good.

Had you received credible evidence that Newton knew about the pay-for-play scheme his father tried to arrange with Mississippi State boosters, do you think Newton would still be playing?

JJ: No, I know he wouldn’t be. If there was any evidence whatsoever, he wouldn’t be playing, but that didn’t happen. Let me tell you this: I’ve been in this business for 30 years, and the NCAA is very, very thorough. In partnership with them, we looked at everything. Cameron didn’t know anything about any of this. There’s never been a question in my mind that he did.

We will see NCAA rules tweaked as a result of this whole ordeal?

JJ: I think we’ve got to take a step back and take a look at a lot of different rules. For instance, the agent rules are archaic. I have three daughters, and if one of my daughters is an exceptional student and a chemical engineering company wants to come talk to her during her junior year, I’m certainly going to encourage that. Why don’t we do the same for world-class athletes?

How do you respond to all those people, including commissioners from other conferences, who say Newton shouldn’t be playing now and that the NCAA dropped the ball in this case?

JJ: First of all, everybody involved in this said Cameron didn’t know. It wasn’t just us. The NCAA was looking as hard as anybody. But I ignored what everybody else said. People question what they don’t understand, and we all do that. But I understood where we were and what was going on. Unless you’re sitting in the room and understand everything that’s gone on, it’s hard to understand. Sometimes, there is no black and white. I think we need to move more towards it in some areas. But the NCAA got this right, because they exercised the student-athlete’s welfare. He hadn’t done anything wrong.

Was there ever a time during this process when you thought you were going to have to keep Newton out of a game?

JJ: At no time whatsoever. The NCAA looked at everything, and we looked everything with them. So there was never a question in my mind where this was going. I knew we would have to weather the storm, but I knew we would.

How pleasing was it for you to see Newton raise his level of play while all this was going on and to see the team rally around him?

JJ: When Cameron puts his helmet on, he’s a different guy. That is his world. He can’t hear anything. He can’t see anything. He’s all football, and it is a game to him. He loves to play the game, which is one of the reasons he’s so great at it. The other thing is that he never did anything wrong, so it never distracted him. All he ever did was tell the truth. It was the unknown that was the distraction.