When it comes time this December to award the Heisman Trophy to its 2010 recipient at the Yale Club in New York City, I hope the voters have the courage to give Auburn’s Cam Newton a big, cast bronze stiff arm.

The 21-year-old quarterback from College Park, Ga., would seem to be the shoo-in pick for the honor this year. He’s already thrown for 1,890 yards and 19 touchdowns and rushed for an SEC-quarterback-record 1,146 yards with another 15 touchdowns, and he’s led Auburn – an 8-5 team a year ago – to an undefeated 10-0 start and the No. 2 spot in the BCS rankings. Three weeks ago in a 24-17 victory over LSU in Baton Rouge, La., the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Newton rushed for 217 yards and two scores including an astounding 49-yard touchdown run that pundits described afterward as his “Heisman moment.”

But the defining moment of Newton’s college career might fall at the opposite end of the spectrum. The former Rivals.com five-star recruit is currently facing both academic and recruiting allegations that, if even partially true, could jeopardize his eligibility at Auburn and ought to preclude him from consideration for the most prestigious individual award in collegiate athletics.

Newton began his college career at the University of Florida in 2007 as a freshman, where he backed up star quarterback and eventual Heisman winner Tim Tebow. He redshirted after injuring his ankle in the season opener of his sophomore season and later transferred to Blinn College in Brenham, Texas, after Tebow announced that he would be returning for his senior season in 2009. After propelling Blinn to a national championship last year, Newton was pursued by several top FBS schools, but chose Auburn over Mississippi State.

His success with the Tigers this year sounds like a storybook ending to a storybook college career, doesn’t it? Well, not so fast.

Earlier this week, FOXSports.com reported that Newton cheated academically three times while at Florida and faced expulsion from the university before transferring to Blinn. He first cheated in a class during his freshman year, according to FOXSports.com’s source. After he was arrested on felony charges of burglary, larceny and obstruction of justice for allegedly purchasing a stolen laptop from another student in November 2008 – charges that were eventually dropped after he completed a pretrial diversion program – Newton put his name on another student’s paper and turned it in, according to the source. He was caught and later submitted a second paper, but that was found to have been purchased off the Internet, the source said. Before Florida’s Student Conduct Committee had a chance in the spring semester of 2009 to impose penalties against Newton that could have included suspension or expulsion, Newton had left for Blinn.

But the quarterback’s alleged waywardness doesn’t end there. Prior to the news of Newton’s academic cheating, ESPN.com reported that a man named Kenny Rogers claimed to represent Newton during his recruitment late last year and asked for $180,000 from Mississippi State to secure the student-athlete’s enrollment at the university.

Most recently, two Mississippi State recruiters told ESPN.com that Newton and his father, Cecil, admitted in separate phone conversations to a pay-for-play plan while Newton was being recruited. One of the recruiters said Cecil Newton told him it would take “more than a scholarship” to bring his son to the school, and Cam supposedly later told another Mississippi State recruiter that his father had chosen Auburn for him because “the money was too much.”

I don’t know about you, but I smell a rat.

While it should not be overlooked that Cam Newton is innocent until proven guilty and that all of the above allegations against him have yet to be proven, the odds don’t appear to be in his favor. Why would someone at Florida fabricate details of three separate instances of academic cheating on Newton’s part? Did those two Mississippi State recruiters misrepresent their interactions with the Newtons just to make headlines?

The main underlying questions that arise from the allegations are, of course, whether or not Auburn was offered a similar deal for Newton’s enrollment to that which Kenny Rogers supposedly presented to Mississippi State and whether or not the school has illegally paid or is illegally paying for Newton to play football for the Tigers.
Those questions will likely remain officially unanswered by the time the Heisman Trophy presentation rolls around, but that shouldn’t stop voters from ignoring Newton’s name on the ballot. The Heisman Trophy is supposed to be awarded to “the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity,” and Cam Newton does not appear to have pursued his excellence with integrity. Even if all he did was cheat on schoolwork at Florida, he doesn’t deserve the Heisman. If he’s getting paid to play college football, then he and Auburn are about to dwarf the Reggie Bush saga at USC and set some new NCAA sanction records.

But before the Heisman Trust has to rip another trophy from the grasp of a rule-breaking recipient like it did with Bush, let’s hope the voters consider Newton’s integrity, or lack thereof – as they should – when they make their picks next month.

Connor Gregoire is a sophomore in the College. FOR LOVE OF THE GAME appears in every third issue of HOYA SPORTS.”

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