While accusations swirled around Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton concerning his academic performance at Florida, Gators coach Urban Meyer denied any involvement in leaking the story.
Auburn officials called a foxsports.com report that Newton cheated and was on the brink of expulsion from Florida two years ago "character assassination." Florida officials would not clarify Newton's status, citing student privacy laws.
As his program was drawn into the controversy, Meyer tried to keep his sights on a showdown Saturday with South Carolina.
"Our entire focus right now is on preparing for our biggest game of the year against South Carolina," Meyer said. "For anyone to think that I or anyone on our staff may have leaked information about private student records to the media doesn't know us very well. It's a ridiculous claim and simply not true."
Newton played in only one game at Florida, and his eligibility at that point does not appear to be in question, so the school isn't likely to face any penalties.
Newton's academic eligibility at second-ranked Auburn (10-0), where he has emerged as a leading Heisman Trophy contender, also does not appear to be in question because he obtained a junior college degree before enrolling. Allegations emerged last week that a former Mississippi State player solicited money from schools during Newton's recruitment from junior college. Those also have been denied.
"These allegations and rumors about Cam Newton are unfortunate and sad because they seem intent on tearing down the reputation of a young man who has done everything we've asked him to do," Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said in a statement. "Cam has been and continues to be completely honest with us. Cam is, by all accounts, a great kid."
Foxsports.com reported that Newton was caught cheating three times while he was a student at Florida in 2007 and 2008, and that he was scheduled to appear for a hearing in front of Florida's Student Committee during the spring semester of 2009 — which could have resulted in his expulsion. The website reported that Newton turned in another student's paper with his name on it and handed in another paper that was later found to have been purchased off the Internet.
Newton has said he left because quarterback Tim Tebow was returning for his senior season and he was not going to get playing time.
Newton did not comment on the allegations during a Tuesday news conference.
"It would be selfish of me to entertain anything that's been said about me because my sole focus right now is to win this football game coming up on this Saturday," Newton said. "I'm not going to entertain something that took place, not three months, not six months, not even a year, but two years ago. I'm not going to sit up here and say anything about it, whether I did or did not do it, because I think I don't want to beat a dead horse talking about it. It's not going to affect me no way, shape, form or fashion."
His coach, however, did address the issue.
"I'm wasting my time addressing allegations that blow my mind that they're even out there, because there's federal privacy laws that dictate that these things don't get out in public," Gene Chizik said during his weekly news conference. "I'm standing up here on a very important week trying to defend something that's garbage."
Newton transferred from Florida to Blinn Junior College in Brenham, Texas, at the end of the 2008 fall semester — after playing in just one game for the Gators. He played one year at Blinn where he graduated, then transferred to Auburn.
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]