Auburn Tigers quarterback Cam Newton kisses the championship trophy after his team beat the Oregon Ducks in the NCAA BCS National Championship college football game in Glendale, Arizona

Cam investigation ends, no major violations for Auburn

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Nearly a year after allegations first surfaced of Cam Newton‘s father soliciting money in exchange for his son’s football talents, the NCAA’s investigation into the alleged situation has come to a conclusion.

And, in what will surely come as a surprise to some/many/most, the results are favorable toward Newton’s former school.

The NCAA informed Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs in a letter dated Oct. 11 that, following The Association’s 13-month investigation into the allegations involving the 2010 Heisman winner, “the enforcement staff has not substantiated any… violations” involving the current Carolina Panthers quarterback.  It had been alleged that Newton’s father, Cecil Newton, as well as a “middle man” had attempted to obtain in the neighborhood of $180,000 from individuals connected to the Mississippi State football program in exchange for Newton’s signing in February of 2010.

From the NCAA’s letter to Jacobs:

Regarding Mr. [Cam] Newton, the enforcement staff and the university conducted over 50 interviews regarding an alleged pay-for-play scenario.  Additionally, an extensive number of documents, including but not limited to, bank records, personal IRS documents telephone records and email messages, were obtained and reviewed as part of the inquiry. … It was also determined that Mr. [Cam] Newton and university representatives were not aware of that [pay-for-play scenario].

In a statement, the NCAA wrote that they are “committed to a fair and thorough investigative process. As such, any allegations of major rules violations must meet a burden of proof, which is a higher standard than rampant public speculation online and in the media. The allegations must be based on credible and persuasive information and includes a good-faith belief that the Committee on Infractions could make a finding.

The letter to Jacobs does note that, “should the enforcement staff become aware of additional information” regarding Newton’s recruitment, the NCAA “will review that information to determine whether further investigation is necessary.”

Additionally, the NCAA wrote in their missive to AU that they were unable to substantiate  any of the allegations made by former Tiger players during an HBO show earlier this year.  Those players — Raven Gray, Stanley McClover, Chaz Ramsey and Troy Reddick —  all alleged that they had received extra benefits and impermissible inducements from boosters and/or AU coaches.

Through interviews with Gray and his family, his claims could not be substantiated and in some cases was disputed by others.  The other former players refused to cooperate with NCAA investigators “despite several attempts to interview those individuals.”

“We appreciate the NCAA and thank them for their professionalism and thoroughness during this exhaustive investigation. We are pleased to put this matter behind us,” Jacobs said in a statement.

Add it all up, and it means that, barring any new information surfacing in the coming months and years, Auburn will get to keep its crystal for winning the 2010 BcS championship and Newton will hold on to his stiff-armed trophy.  And, finally, both parties might actually be able to enjoy the spoils of their on-field success, regardless of the cloud of suspicion that will continue to hang over both entities despite being “cleared” by the NCAA.

UPDATE 7:16 p.m. ET: Cam Newton has (very briefly) addressed the end of the NCAA’s investigation and its positive outcome.

Cam Newton said Wednesday he was not surprised that the NCAA cleared Auburn of any wrongdoing in his signing after more than a year of investigations.

“I could have told you that,” Newton told the Charlotte Observer as he left the Carolina Panthers’ facility

Asked for an additional comment, Newton said, “No, let’s let old wounds” heal, he said.

Report: Auburn offensive coordinator search getting thorny

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 08:  Head coach Gus Malzahn of the Auburn Tigers reacts during the game against the Texas A&M Aggies at Jordan Hare Stadium on November 8, 2014 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Auburn does not have an offensive coordinator yet, which is odd. The Tigers have an explosive offense with a lot of returning parts. They have Jarrett Stidham coming in to play quarterback. They have a boatload of money. And they have a boatload of money.

According to a report from James Crepea of AL.com, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn and “people with influence over the program” can’t agree on who should replace Rhett Lashlee.

Malzahn is said to prefer Florida Atlantic offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, Arizona State offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey and NC State offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz. Lindsey and Drinkwitz worked for Malzahn previously, and Malzahn has built a working relationship with the Briles family — Stidham and running back Kam Martin transferred from Waco to Auburn, and Art Briles visited a Tigers practice this season.

But Auburn donors, Crepea writes, have nixed those choices, saying Briles is too inexperienced and Lindsey and Drinkwitz are too close to Malzahn.

Instead, donors preferred Texas A&M offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone (who has already been crossed off the list) or Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich (ditto). Mark Helfrich does not seem like a viable option at this time.

With less than two weeks until National Signing Day, the urgency to bring someone to the South Plains only grows stronger.

Forza Blu? Michigan reportedly planning spring practice in Italy

EAST LANSING, MI - OCTOBER 29: Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines directs a drill during warm ups prior to playing the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium on October 29, 2016 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Undeterred by recent NCAA legislation, Jim Harbaugh is reportedly going international.

As noted by the Detroit Free Press, a post on Rivals affiliate TheWolverine.com reports that Michigan is planning to spend the final week of football spring practice in Rome, Italy. The team would not only practice several times on Italian soil, but would allow the team to visit the sights in the area and even leave players in Europe to study abroad for a semester.

The move would no doubt ruffle even more feathers in the football and NCAA communities after Harbaugh famously took the Wolverines to the IMG Academy down in Florida for spring practice last March. That prompted recent legislation that was passed at the NCAA convention in Nashville this week — a Harbaugh Rule if you will — that prohibited off-campus practice during a vacation period outside of a playing season.

While it would seem that would rule out trips away from Ann Arbor for spring football practices, it appears the Michigan athletic department is going to push forward by exploiting a slight loophole in the language of the rule. While vacation periods may be off limits like spring break, it appears the Wolverines would be looking to leave town at the end of April, which would be after the semester ends  and does not fall into any scheduled vacation time.

We’ll see if anything becomes of this report and if Michigan indeed announces such an unprecedented trip. While foreign tours are common in sports like basketball at the NCAA levels, it really hasn’t happened in football aside from occasional games overseas so it will be interesting to see if this becomes a trend, or is just another case of Harbaugh being Harbaugh.

Wisconsin extends head coach Paul Chryst’s contract through 2022

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 2: Corey Clement #6 of the Wisconsin Badgers points toward head coach Paul Chryst  as the two celebrate following the 81st Goodyear Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium on January 2, 2017 in Arlington, Texas. Wisconsin defeated Western Michigan 24-16. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
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Winning a New Year’s Six bowl and outperforming nearly every preseason expectation typically results in a nice boost to a head coach’s bank account and that is the case at Wisconsin this year.

The Badgers announced on Friday that the school’s athletic board had extended head football coach Paul Chryst another year, running through January 31, 2022. Additional contract terms such as a potential raise or incentives were not announced, meaning this was likely just tacking another year onto the former Wisconsin quarterback’s original deal in Madison.

The move isn’t new for the program, which pulled the same extension almost to the day a year ago after Chryst led the Badgers to a 10-3 year in 2015 that was capped off with a Holiday Bowl victory over USC. The coach one-upped that performance in 2016, winning the Big Ten West title and getting selected for the Cotton Bowl, which the team won over previously undefeated Western Michigan.

Chryst’s original contract he signed two years ago was for a term of five seasons through 2020. He originally made around $2.3 million a year but should be hitting the $2.5 million mark heading into 2017 with various increases incorporated.

Vol legend Peyton Manning reportedly advising alma mater Tennessee on AD search

COLLEGE STATION, TX - OCTOBER 08:  Former Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Peyton Manning walks across the field prior to the start of their game against the Texas A&M Aggies at Kyle Field on October 8, 2016 in College Station, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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New College Football Hall of Famer Peyton Manning is staying busy with various ventures now that he’s retired from the NFL and apparently the Vol legend doesn’t mind returning to Tennessee to add another thing to his plate.

According to a report from the Knoxville News Sentinel, Manning will be part of a search committee for the school’s chancellor as she attempts to find a new athletic director following the retirement of Dave Hart at the end of June. Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam is also expected to be part of the six-person strong committee, which will assist recently hired search firm Turnkey Sports and Entertainment in finding the right candidate to lead the department.

Hart’s retirement has known for some time and the fact that Alabama surprisingly hired Greg Byrne away from Arizona without as much as a sniff from the Vols have made many in the fan base a little anxious about the state of the on-going  (and lengthy) search. Manning’s former head coach Phillip Fulmer has reportedly been mentioned as a candidate for the gig but the hire of a search firm and advisory committee suggests that a hire may be a few weeks or months away.

There are few folks connected to Tennessee football more fondly remembered around Knoxville than Manning and you can’t help but wonder if Vols fans longing for some stability and a big name in the AD chair wouldn’t mind pushing the quarterback’s name for the position. If so, perhaps joining the search committee is the first step toward that path and a move that would certainly make a lot more sense than bringing somebody like Fulmer back into the fold.