On December 1st of this year, Auburn declared Cameron Newton to be ineligible, but the NCAA immediately reinstated him for the SEC championship game. After the bizarre events and the NCAA's decision, America was left scratching its collective head.
In the wake of the NCAA's decision, many fans, including this writer, expected a severe reaction by the public. As of yet, no reaction has come, and most folks seem to have moved on and forgotten everything.
In the month leading up to the championship game, against the nation's selective memory, I offer a possible prediction of the future:
Oregon and Auburn will play for the national championship on January 10th. For the next month, no one in the media will discuss the Cameron Newton controversy. Some sports journalists may occasionally mention it as if it were an afterthought to the greater story, but nothing more. The story will be the epic battle of the West Coast versus the East Coast; Pac-10 versus the mighty SEC; old power versus the up-and-coming.
Oregon and West Coast people alike won't make a big stink about Newton's eligibility. The truth is, Oregon fans want to play a healthy Auburn. Most Oregon fans wanted Auburn to beat South Carolina in the SEC Championship Game. They knew that if Auburn lost, TCU would play Oregon.
Many saw that as a lose-lose situation for the Ducks. Win, and everyone would forever discredit Oregon's title, and Duck fans would have to argue against SEC fans for an eternity over the injustice of not having a one-loss SEC team in the championship. Lose, and...well, it would be much, much worse.
Oregon wants to play Auburn, and more importantly, the Ducks want to play a healthy, Cameron Newton-led Auburn.
This doesn't mean that Oregon fans and the rest of the country don't care about Newton's situation. After the championship, the West Coast will wait for the Cameron Newton investigation to conclude and will expect heads to roll as the NCAA doles out punishments. People will understand the brief delaying of retribution. Losing Newton at the very end of the season would hurt college football, after all. People still want justice, though.
Auburn knew the risks of playing Cameron Newton, and they did so anyway. After the NCAA's devastation of USC over the Reggie Bush scandal, it will only be a matter of time before Auburn and Newton get what's coming to them, right?
Wrong. Nothing will happen. Newton will abscond to the NFL with his Heisman Trophy, Auburn will again descend into mediocrity and the whole controversy will be forgotten about. The NCAA's investigation will never continue. They will have temporarily gotten away with it too. They protected Auburn, the horrible bowl system, the SEC and college football in general. In short, the NCAA will have protected its cash cow.
But not for long. Eventually some rogue Pac-12 coach (and not Lane Kiffin) will shoot some comment off the cuff. It will go something like this:
"Yeah, you know, it's really a disgrace. The Pac-10 had their juggernaut in USC. Yeah, Reggie Bush received benefits directly, but still—broken rules are broken rules, right? The NCAA swept in and tore down our giant. They stripped USC of their power, and when the same thing happened to the SEC, the NCAA bowed down and kissed Auburn's holy ring. I don't think Pac-12 fans should stand for it."
And they won't. Pac-12 fans will all snap out of their apathy and start causing trouble. Protests will be staged. ESPN's College GameDay will have to be canceled due to unruly fans wielding offensive signs with even more offensive acronyms for ESPN and NCAA. USC and UCLA fans will hold hands and sing kumbaya. Stanford and Cal fans will follow suit. Ducks, Beavers, Cougars and Huskies will all come together and stage anti-NCAA events.
Eventually, the Pac-12 school presidents will join the fight, and with Larry Scott's new Pac-12 television network, the Pac-12 will leave the NCAA, leaving behind a scathing, although formal, letter.
The Big Ten will look at the Pac-12's example and decide that the NCAA is indeed a corrupt organization. The Big Ten will then secede from the NCAA, and the Pac-12 and Big Ten will renew the Rose Bowl of old. They'll even drop the sponsor. There will be no more "Rose Bowl presented by Lucky Charms," but only the Rose Bowl.
Money will still be made, although not as much. But integrity and honesty will again be restored to at least some of football.
And maybe, just maybe, college athletes will attend schools in the Pac-12 or Big Ten because they respect the examples set. Those athletes will even see a free education as fair compensation.