ESPN: MSU Coaches Leaked Damning Cam Calls

If there was any doubt who leaked the most recent, and damaging story about Cam Newton and his father Cecil to ESPN earlier this week, there isn’t now.

Mullen verifies no recruiters besides MSU coaches

Wednesday ESPN’s Joe Schad reported:

Two sources who recruit for Mississippi State said that Cecil Newton and his son, quarterback Cam Newton, said in separate phone conversations that his college choice would be part of a pay-for-play plan while Newton was being recruited late last year.

Thanks to information provided by Mississippi State Head Coach Dan Mullen on the record to the media yesterday - and if Schad’s report is true - those sources have been indisputably verified as Mississippi State football coaches.

NEMS360.com Mississippi State beat reporter Brad Locke Tweeted this yesterday during Mullen’s media teleconference:

Mullen, when asked if anyone besides coaches are registered recruiters for MSU: “No.”

Brandon Marcello, who also covers the daily Mississippi State football beat for the CLARION (MS) LEDGER, was the one who asked Mullen the above question. He also noted:

An ESPN.com report cited “recruiters” as sources late Tuesday night. Those recruiters say, according to ESPN.com, that Newton and his father, Cecil Newton, admitted to a “pay-for-play plan” in separate phone conversations with MSU recruiters.

The term “recruiters” raised questions and I asked Mullen today if anyone besides his assistant coaches were registered as recruiters with the NCAA. His answer was a short and pointed “no.”

I’m still attempting to contact MSU to see who is registered as a recruiter with the NCAA. My phone calls have, so far, gone unanswered.

That information could easily be had via a Freedom Of Information act, as Mississippi State is a publicly-funded state institution, but there’s no need. Mullen already confirmed it himself.

So now that we’ve established that MSU football coaches leaked the information about the Newton phone calls to Schad - if his ESPN report is correct - then why did John Bond, who is not a member of the MSU coaching staff, officially report the information about other alleged recruiting impropriety involving Newton to Mississippi State - and then front the story on MSU’s behalf for ESPN?

As a refresher, here’s the original headline from ESPN.com from ESPN’s first report about possible Newton recruiting impropriety: “Cam Newton offered for cash in exchange for signing letter of intent, ex-Mississippi State quarterback said - ESPN

John Bond fronted initial ESPN report on Newton, Rogers

That headline makes it sound like Bond was the source of the complaint to MSU against Newton, but from what we know now - including Bond confirming there “were two people” between him and alleged middeman Kenny Rogers - was he really?

In Bond’s original, on the record statement to ESPN last week about alleged impropriety involving the recruitment of Newton, he himself did not name Rogers as the middleman allegedly soliciting money on Newton’s behalf.

Instead it was ESPN, in that same initial report, that identified Rogers as the alleged go-between. (Without Rogers being named, ESPN really had no story.)

So how did ESPN get the information that Rogers was initially involved?

Now that we indisputably have verified - if ESPN’s report is accurate - that the MSU coaches leaked the Newton phone call info to ESPN, and that Bond said there were two people between him and alleged middleman Rogers, and Joe Schad’s source for the ESPN Newton phone call story was “two sources who recruit for Mississippi State, is it unreasonable to think that the same coaches leaked the info about Rogers to ESPN for its first report?

And that those same MSU coaches then proceeded to hide behind Bond as the public front for the initial, ESPN breaking story about Newton and Rogers?

And what of ESPN in all of this? Why did Pat Forde, Chris Low and Mark Schlabach author the first story about Newton and then have Joe Schad report the second?

Was the muddying of bylines designed to mitigate blowback against individual writers - see Schlabach’s ugly incident last Saturday - while also, once again, giving the appearance that MSU coaches didn’t orchestrate the leaks for both stories?

Hard to believe that ESPN knowingly would be manipulated to that effect - especially considering the lack of material evidence provided in both stories.

Consider the fact that the SEC did not act on what Schad reported to be information sent to the league in January that would constitute a serious NCAA violation on Newton’s part and almost certainly render him ineligible. (If ESPN’s report about the phone calls was completely accurate.)

But then there’s Mississippi State’s official statement released to the media yesterday about its contact with the SEC:

“Mississippi State University acknowledges that it contacted the Southeastern Conference office in January of 2010 regarding an issue relating to its recruitment of Cam Newton.

“Shortly after the initial call, the SEC office requested specific information to include interviews with involved staff from MSU.

“Due to MSU dealing with ongoing and time-consuming eligibility issues involving non-football matters in the winter and spring of 2010, the specific SEC request went unfulfilled. Some additional information was provided to the SEC during July of 2010.

“Once the NCAA enforcement staff became involved, Mississippi State University cooperated fully with its investigation. MSU is confident the SEC office has managed this process consistent with its established procedures and the university is committed to the conference’s ongoing efforts to ensure compliance with SEC and NCAA rules.”

Now the first two grafs from Schad’s ESPN report on the Newton phone calls:

Two sources who recruit for Mississippi State said that Cecil Newton and his son, quarterback Cam Newton, said in separate phone conversations that his college choice would be part of a pay-for-play plan while Newton was being recruited late last year.

Mississippi State compliance officials relayed the alleged conversations to Southeastern Conference compliance officials in January, according to two other sources close to the football program.

When you read Mississippi State’s statement, and then Schad’s report, which includes extremely serious allegations of what would certainly be major NCAA violations, there is a major disconnect.

Clearly in its statement yesterday, MSU disputed ESPN’s report that the SEC had been sitting on legitimate evidence involving serious NCAA violations by Newton for 11 months.

But MSU does indicate in its statement that the SEC has had the pertinent info, which according to ESPN does including evidence about the Newton phone calls that Schad thought important enough to report this week, since July.

If Newton’s actions were serious enough and the evidence to that effect was legitimate enough for ESPN’s Schad to report them, and they involve Newton soliciting hundreds of thousands of dollars to play college football, why is Newton eligible?

In my opinion …

What Mississippi State’s coaches appeared to do in this case was try to carry out a little Bronson-esque vigilante justice. When they didn’t see the NCAA respond to their liking, they used the media to attack the NCAA’s so-called foot-dragging on the issue.

It appears that the Mississippi State coaches thought that by July, the SEC had enough damning information on Newton that there’s no way on earth the quarterback should’ve been eligible this season.

But as the SEC, and the NCAA, had not acted on that available evidence for five months, MSU coaches leaked the details of Rogers and Newton’s alleged actions to ESPN in separate reports.

By exposing the SEC and NCAA as to the serious nature of what the two organizations allegedly had in their possession, the MSU coaches hoped they could get the NCAA to act in a more timely manner.

In other words, render Newton ineligible immediately.

The problem I have in all of this is that in the SEC and NCAA’s non-response to ESPN’s reports, it appears that perhaps MSU may have been exaggerating its claims about Newton’s alleged cheating.

Or not. Perhaps the MSU coaches are correct in thinking that Newton’s eligibility should’ve long been struck down by the NCAA.

Most importantly …

Despite making allegations of Newton and Rogers that would undoubtedly be classified by the NCAA as major violations, ESPN’s included no material evidence in its two reports and had nothing on the record except from non-MSU-recruiter Bond. The same non-MSU-affiliated Bond who ESPN used to essentially front its first report.

If the NCAA doesn’t act on the information ESPN has reported - via MSU coaches - in the very near future, you can’t come to any other conclusion than the network should’ve been more discerning in its decision to report the allegations against Newton and Rogers.

UPDATE:

ESPN story about Cam Newton phone calls wrong

Turns out ESPN did make a critical error in the Schad-authored report. The SEC has since noted that none of the information in ESPN’s report about the Cam and Cecil Newton phone calls was ever reported to the conference.  (Thus, the NCAA was never made aware as well.)

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