College football's dignity left in armored truck

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The only way the Heisman Trophy still means anything after this weekend is if the football cradled in the statue's left arm is replaced by a bag overflowing with cash. After all, nothing says college football these days like the Benjamins.

Every time we think the sport has run out of things to sell, it auctions off another shred of dignity. Take a look at what's about to happen (again) to what used to be the game's biggest individual award.

There's no suspense surrounding who will win the Heisman come Saturday -- Auburn's Cam Newton in a landslide -- only whether his would-be shakedown-artist father, Cecil, would show up for the ceremony in New York and make the mockery complete. He said he won't. Too bad. He should.

Cam Newton sounds like a good son, but he's not a very convincing liar. In his latest remarks on the pay-for-play scandal, Newton told ESPN that he didn't know his father was shopping him around.

"Honestly, we haven't," he said, "and that's not something I'm trying to get clarity of because I really don't care. At the end of the day, I can look him in the eye and know he has my best interests at heart."

It's a lousy story, but apparently good enough for the NCAA, at least for the time being.

In the official statement, the NCAA said its decision was "based on the information available to the reinstatement staff at this time." That means the enforcement people could still whack Newton and Auburn if more compelling evidence turns up. They just aren't going to do it while Newton is a walking, talking ATM for everybody from the vendors in the stands to the BCS czars throwing down hors d'oeuvres in the skyboxes on national title night.

Cynics charge the NCAA has become nothing but a lapdog to the game's monied interest. But they'd have to concede it hasn't had much complaint, too.

University presidents have paid coaches more than entire faculty departments, then let the BCS hijack their most valuable property, the postseason, in exchange for hefty payouts to their schools. When their universities and conferences sloughed off decades-long loyalties in pursuit of a quick buck, the only integrity they likely insisted on were cashier's checks.

Eligibility? Agents trolling campuses for easy marks and-or future clients? Lack of institutional control?

The guys in charge might pretend to be pained, but nobody really worries about that amateur stuff any more, least of all the kids on whose backs the empire rests. They, too, can see college football for what it's finally become: the NFL's de facto minor league.

Newton deserves the Heisman. He was the best player this season, even if his dad was somewhere lurking in the background with his palm always turned up.


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