The SEC has said little about the Cam Newton melodrama, but the one thing that they have consistently declared is that any ruling regarding his eligibility must be made by Auburn, not the SEC or the NCAA. As SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said a week ago:
"The only thing we made clear is a decision about his eligibility is a decision that has to be made by the institution."
Several days back, though, Jon Solomon of the Birmingham News had a great piece focusing on how, despite statements to the contrary, Mike Slive actually has the power to unilaterally sit a player under bylaw 22.214.171.124, approved by university presidents just this past spring:
"The Commissioner has the duty and power to investigate the validity of violations and impose penalties and sanctions against member institutions, their athletic staff members or student-athletes, for practices and conduct which violate the spirit, as well as the letter of NCAA and SEC rules and regulations. This shall include the ability to render prospective student-athletes or current student-athletes ineligible for competition due to their involvement in a violation of NCAA or SEC rules that occurs during the individual's recruitment. The Commissioner also has the authority to suspend institutional staff members from participation in recruiting activities or participation in practice and/or competition due to their involvement in violations of NCAA or SEC rules."
Read that one again. That's one hell of a massive amount of power in the hands of the SEC commissioner, now isn't it?
Not only does it grant the power to investigate the validity of violations and impose penalties, it bestows upon him the duty of doing so. Furthermore, not only does it allow him to investigate violations and impose penalties for violations of NCAA and SEC rules and regulations, it allows him to impose penalties in case where merely the spirit of the law, but not the text, have been violated. Moreover, the second sentence of that bylaw grants him explicit power to investigate and impose penalties regarding violations that occurred during the recruitment of an individual player. And finally, read the first sentence again, this bylaw gives him the power to impose penalties against member institutions as well, and not just individual athletes.
In real terms applied to the Cam Newton situation, it seems fairly evident to me that, despite Slive publicly throwing his hands up in the air and proclaiming himself to be powerless in the face of this controversy, Slive himself could unilaterally come out at any second and declare Newton ineligible -- even if no violations of the black letter text of any applicable rules occurred -- and impose further penalties as well, including sanctions against Auburn as an institution (which, could, I suppose, extend to the vacation of wins and sending the second place SEC West team to Atlanta).
Now, what are the odds of that happening? Obviously those odds seem fairly low, assuming that if Slive were going to sit Newton -- much less impose further sanctions -- he would have probably done so before the Georgia game, but nevertheless the point remains that he seemingly has the power to do so. When Slive says this decision must be made by the institution, it seems that is only pretext to gloss over the reality that he does not want to make the decision unilaterally. Slive can claim impotence all he wants, but a textualist interpretation of this bylaw indicates that he has all the power in the world to not only sit Newton, but to impose further sanctions against Auburn if he feels it necessary. The issue seems to be one of will, not ability.