Front-Runner's Eligibility For Heisman Scrutinized College football's top individual honor, the Heisman Trophy, will be awarded Saturday. The front-runner is Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, whose father was investigated after reports that he'd tried to shop his son to the highest-bidding school. Guest host Audie Cornish speaks with sports columnist and ESPN commentator Kevin Blackistone about why the NCAA cleared Newton and what implications that could have on the Heisman race.

Front-Runner's Eligibility For Heisman Scrutinized

Front-Runner's Eligibility For Heisman Scrutinized

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College football's top individual honor, the Heisman Trophy, will be awarded Saturday. The front-runner is Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, whose father was investigated after reports that he'd tried to shop his son to the highest-bidding school. Guest host Audie Cornish speaks with sports columnist and ESPN commentator Kevin Blackistone about why the NCAA cleared Newton and what implications that could have on the Heisman race.

AUDIE CORNISH, host:

We'll go now from the AK-47 to the shotgun.

Unidentified Announcer #1: Deep in the middle, got a man open - touchdown!

(Soundbite of cheering)

CORNISH: The Heisman Trophy will be awarded tonight, and almost every sportswriter agrees that the front-runner for the award this year is Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. The man has moves that can make broadcasters sound silly.

Unidentified Announcer #1: Newton - look at that little move. Look at that second move. Look at that!

Unidentified Announcer #2: I think "look at that" is enough.

CORNISH: But while Cam Newton's athleticism can't be questioned, his eligibility for the Heisman was scrutinized. The NCAA recently investigated whether Newton's father tried to sell his son's services to the highest bidder. Amateur athletes are forbidden from accepting money for playing sports, but the NCAA cleared Cam Newton of the charges.

Sports columnist Kevin Blackistone writes for AOL Fan House, and he's a regular panelist on ESPN's "Around the Horn."

Kevin, welcome back to the show.

Mr. KEVIN BLACKISTONE (AOL Fan House, Panelist, "Around the Horn"): Thank you very much, Audie.

CORNISH: So is the Heisman a foregone conclusion? I mean, is Cam Newton like, so far ahead of whoever's number two that no controversy can derail him?

Mr. BLACKISTONE: I'm certainly sure of that at this point. On Thursday night, he swept the other major awards for the college football season, so I would be surprised if he did not win the Heisman. However, there will still be some controversy surrounding his award, simply because there are a number of sportswriters who have said that they will not vote for Mr. Newton simply because of all the allegations swirling around his father and his recruitment to Mississippi State before he got to Auburn.

CORNISH: Yeah, I want to - let's get into the controversy some more. I'm going to try and give the nickel version. You can tell me if I'm getting it right here. So Cam Newton's dad told Mississippi State that Cam would transfer there if it paid him something in the six-figure range.

Mr. BLACKISTONE: Right.

CORNISH: Mississippi State refused; Cam Newton signs with Auburn. The Heisman Trust says Cam Newton is eligible for the award tonight because there's no evidence that he knew what his father was doing, OK.

Mr. BLACKISTONE: Exactly.

CORNISH: So you've actually written that you don't think Cam Newton was at fault, even if he knew...

Mr. BLACKISTONE: Exactly.

CORNISH: ...even if he knew.

Mr. BLACKISTONE: Well, I just think the whole system has become pretty ludicrous. I mean, here is an institution, Auburn University, that's going to take a $17 million check for playing in the national championship game next month. His coach is going to earn anywhere from - oh, I guess, three to three-and-a-half million dollars a year for coaching him. And still, we hold these players up to this amateur ideal that doesn't exist anyplace else in college football.

It's a multibillion-dollar industry, and yet we pretend as if these players shouldn't be or are not a part of this. And in fact, they have to maintain some type of amateur status while everybody else around them is making money. And I just think that the entire system needs to be cleaned up. And I'm tiring of blaming the players every time they take a couple extra $10,000 for something they do for this university.

CORNISH: At the same time, I looked at the comments section after your column, and people were brutal. People said. wrong is wrong; this is unbelievable; this is greedy. There are some people out there who still believe in this ideal.

Mr. BLACKISTONE: Yeah. And I just think it's a bad marriage now. You know, at one time, amateurism and college athletics was understandable. But now, when you have institutions trying to raise funds through their athletic departments and then we treat the proletariat - the student-athletes - as amateurs and don't allow them to get anything more than room, tuition and board, I think it's time to consider a better way to treat student-athletes who bring in so much revenue to universities.

CORNISH: Kevin Blackistone writes about sports for AOL Fan House, and he teaches sports journalism at the University of Maryland.

Kevin, thanks so much.

Mr. BLACKISTONE: My pleasure.

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