AUBURN, Ala. — The NCAA ruled Wednesday that Auburn's Heisman Trophy favorite, Cam Newton, won't be punished for the payment scheme concocted by his father, Cecil.
Instead, the quarterback will lead the second-ranked Tigers into the Southeastern Conference championship game Saturday against South Carolina — with a shot at the national title on the line.
The NCAA cleared Newton to compete without conditions, saying it was Cecil Newton and "an owner of a scouting service" — former Mississippi State player Kenny Rogers — who violated amateurism rules.
The NCAA and Auburn moved swiftly this week to bring at least some resolution. The sports governing body concluded Monday that a violation had been committed by Cecil Newton and Rogers. A day later — following NCAA bylaws — Auburn declared Newton ineligible and then requested his eligibility be reinstated.
"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," Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president for academic and membership affairs, said in a news release.
The NCAA became involved during the summer in investigating the pay-for-play scheme that was discussed during Newton's recruitment. Two Mississippi State boosters accused Cecil Newton and Rogers of trying to get up to $180,000 for Newton to play for the Bulldogs while the quarterback was being recruited out of junior college last year.
The question of how much Auburn and Cam Newton knew about the scam has dogged the 12-0 Tigers since news of the recruiting scandal became public last month.
But Lennon seems to have left the door open for future discipline. The NCAA would not say Wednesday that the case is closed, saying that reinstatement can occur "prior to the close of an investigation."
Still, it was good news for Auburn.
The ruling at least temporarily allays fears that the Tigers would lose the player who has helped propel them from a middling SEC team last year to a never-say-die powerhouse with a shot at the title.
It also temporarily eases concerns that Auburn's 12 wins — and any titles — would wind up being vacated if the NCAA had found that Newton had been ineligible.
The NCAA said Wednesday that Auburn and NCAA enforcement staff agreed that Newton's father and an owner of a scouting service worked together on the scheme. The NCAA did not name Rogers.
Auburn has agreed to limit Cecil Newton's access to its athletics program, and Mississippi State has dissociated itself from Rogers, who worked for a sports agent.
The Newtons' attorney, George Lawson, told WSB-TV of Atlanta on Nov. 18 that he is "1 million percent" certain that Cam Newton did not take any money.
"No money has been offered to Cam Newton. Cam Newton hasn't asked for any money," Lawson said in the report. "Cam Newton, Cecil Newton and Jackie Newton have participated in the ongoing NCAA investigation. They have been truthful and candid with the NCAA." Jackie Newton is the quarterback's mother.
Rogers' attorney, Doug Zeit, said he had received a letter from Mississippi State on Wednesday morning stating that Rogers has been dissociated from the school. But he took issue with the letter's wording. The attorney said the school's reasoning for dissociating itself with his client was because Rogers told the NCAA he made a solicitation for a player.
"We never told the NCAA that," Zeit said. "I want to make that perfectly clear. Cecil Newton asked for the money, and then Kenny Rogers passed along Newton's message."