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The blade of the razor

The worst part about a story like this–

No, wait, not the worst part. The worst part is knowing your football team is 10-0 and has an excellent chance to snap a four-game losing streak against their oldest rivals Saturday, but you still wake up terrified to find out what might have been written about them since the last time you checked. The knot in your stomach as you open your browser–that’s the worst part. For now, anyway.

But another bad part is how quickly things change. I’d tried to find the time to write something Tuesday afternoon, but, you know, new job and baby and all. It would have been a post almost snarlingly defiant; five or six days of digging, and the best the horde of reporters on the Newton trail could do was a crusty two-year old accusation of academic missteps at Florida? Really? The infuriating thing about the Evans hit piece was how utterly beside-the-point it was, but once the initial flash of anger had passed, that was also the pleasant thing about it. It meant nothing. Will’s effort to show it shouldn’t even be taken at its nonexistent face “value” is unquestionably appreciated, but I can’t say it was necessary. If that was all the legs the Newton story had to show for itself, it wasn’t going to walk very far.

So maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t get the post up, because it was just a few short hours before the news of the FBI involvement and the Schad report changed things. The particularly depressing thing about the FBI report is that it fit what I’d heard from a couple of people outside the Auburn circle I’d pinged: that there were plenty enough indications to fully believe the Newtons were on the take, but that hard evidence was hard to come by. Without subpoena power, neither the NCAA nor Auburn’s compliance department can check everything out, right? But the FBI can. This could be a problem.

Combine that with the Schad report –two gut punches after so much time watching the story twiddle its thumbs — and I wound up spending a lot of this morning thinking about Ockham’s razor. When I wrote my first post on Camgate, the vast distance between the information uncovered and “someone at Auburn paid the Newtons some vast sum of laundered money” seemed so great that the simplest, best explanation was that things began and ended in Starkville. At some point, though, there is too much smoke for there to be no fire. At some point, the simplest explanation for this much information pointing towards what we think of as the wrong conclusion is that the conclusion is accurate. Had we reached that point? I’ll be honest, WBE readers: as of this past morning, I was convinced we had.

But the day goes by, and I keep coming back to the one constant in this whole disastrous mess: that the people at Auburn who know the score better than virtually any of us, who have known this was an issue since July, for whom the Schad reveals were either old news or so poorly sourced that they aren’t weren’t bothering with (is that why an SEC spokesman apparently said they weren’t part of State’s original report on the matter, contrary to Schad’s report?) … those people are still emphatically behind Cam Newton’s innocence. As Phillip Marshall put it:

It’s a fact that Newton wouldn’t be playing for Auburn if there was any credible evidence against him. There is no gray area. If there was any evidence at all that he’d done anything wrong, he would not be playing.

A lot of people have assumed Auburn knows that Newton is ineligible and is just going all-in in an effort to win a couple of ill-gotten trophies before the hammer falls. But when you’re talking about a scenario with years and years of potential repercussions, that’s not how the game works, especially at a place like Auburn where history means NCAA allegations are things that cannot be taken likely. No one is any closer to the Auburn A.D. than P-Marsh; if he says this is a fact, it’s a fact. (Or something extremely close to one.)

But as As Matt Hinton pointed out, A.J. Green sat, Marcell Dareus sat, the UNC contingent sat, and Newton has played on. Why? The answer is that Auburn believes wholeheartedly that Newton is in the clear. When (is it even worth adding the “if”?) Cam Newton takes the field Saturday, we will be able to say with certainty that one of three things is true: either Auburn is correct and Newton is innocent of the allegations against him and his family, or they are lying through their teeth to the rest of the Auburn community, or they are so grossly negligent in their duty to investigate the MSU claims that they deserve to lose their jobs anyway.

We are Auburn. I know our history. So maybe it’s not accurate to say “We don’t cheat.” But that’s our history, our past; what Auburn is today, what Auburn ought to be, what Auburn is in the hearts and minds of those of us who love it, that Auburn–that Auburn does not cheat. I am taking and will continue to take our athletic leadership at their word that we have not cheated in the recruitment of Cam Newton.

But if that word is proven incorrect, there is going to be all kinds of hell to pay. And there damn well should be.

Some unfortunate housekeeping: I’m on the road most of the day Thursday and Friday, so I don’t think there’s going to be any post about Georgia. Sorry. I’ll tell you right now that I think we edge them assuming Newton plays … but that we all have a lot of nervous moments before the final whistle. Again. In lieu of more regular Auburn-centric posting, I’ve started moving some of my instant reaction to my Twitter feed and should have some sporadic updates over the next couple of days; give me a follow.

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