The redemptive narrative of Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy, has taken another turn.
A person briefed on Newton’s situation confirmed on Tuesday theFoxsports.com report a day earlier that Newton left the University of Floridaafter the fall semester in 2008 rather than face suspension or expulsion in part because of three instances of academic cheating.
Newton did not deny the academic problems in a statement released by Auburn.
“I’m not going to respond to every story or criticism that is reported by the media,” he said. “I’ve talked on several occasions about my time at Florida.”
In a telephone interview, Newton’s father, Cecil Newton Sr., said: “I cannot confirm or deny anything. I am under a gag order from my attorney.” He added, “I don’t know what’s in his personal file, but if someone is bold enough to post something like that, there will be consequences.”
Newton and his father have been under fire since a former Mississippi State quarterback, John Bond, said that a man with ties to an N.F.L. agent had been shopping Newton’s services to colleges for a “specified payment.” ESPN.com reported that it was $180,000.
The Newtons have denied any wrongdoing.
“That is certainly untrue,” Cecil Newton said when asked if Kenny Rogers, a so-called recruiter with financial ties to the N.F.L. agent Ian Greengross, was representing his son.
Newton’s academic problems contrast sharply with the story that Cam Newton and his father have perpetuated as he has evolved in the past three months from a little-known junior-college transfer to the brightest star in college football.
In an attempt to deflect the notion that Newton left Florida because of the fallout from his arrest as a sophomore in the theft of a laptop computer in the fall of 2008, Newton has tied his departure to the return of Florida’s star quarterback, Tim Tebow, for his senior season in 2009.
“I think I was left with no choice but to leave,” Newton told CBSSports.com. “I felt like if he comes back for his senior year, I really wasn’t going to get a chance to play, and that was another year washed down the drain.”
By the time Tebow made that decision, according to the Foxsports.com report, Newton was not even enrolled at Florida and faced suspension or expulsion. The report stated that Newton had a cheating issue in his freshman year, then two more in his sophomore year. As a sophomore, he was caught putting his name on another student’s paper and buying a replacement paper on the Internet.
Asked if he stood by his account of the circumstances surrounding his son’s departure from Florida, Cecil Newton said, “We can’t go into that.”
Regarding questions that he had leaked academic records on Cam Newton, Florida Coach Urban Meyer said: “Our entire focus right now is on preparing for our biggest game of the year against South Carolina. For anyone to think that I or anyone on our staff may have leaked information about private student records to the media doesn’t know us very well. It’s a ridiculous claim and simply not true.”
Eugene Zdziarski, Florida’s former assistant vice president and dean of students, said that privacy laws would not allow him to comment on Newton.
“A student conduct record is something that is protected by law, and it would be illegal and unethical for me to comment on that,” said Zdziarski, who left Florida for Roanoke College in late 2008.
He added, “As a student affairs professional, I’m glad to see that Cam has moved on and found some opportunities and he’s getting an opportunity here, and I hope he makes the most in all that.”
In January, Newton transferred to Auburn from Blinn College, a junior college in Texas. He has since become the biggest story in college football, helping the Tigers, who are ranked No. 2 in the Bowl Championship Series standings, become a contender for the national championship. Newton is ranked No. 2 in the country in passing efficiency and has thrown 19 touchdown passes to just five interceptions. He is the nation’s No. 10 rusher, averaging 114.6 yards per game and scoring 15 touchdowns.
Although the cheating incidents should not affect Newton on the field, they could affect the way voters regard his quest for the Heisman Trophy. Newton said he was focused only on what is ahead.
“I’m not going to let any of this be a distraction to this team,” he said, “and I look forward to the rest of the season.”