Mike Bianchi's Holy Heisman War

Jeff Zelevansky

Not because of anything he’s done on the field, but because of what everybody pretty much knows he did off of it.

Everyone who has followed the Johnny Manziel story is immediately thrown back to the days of Cam Newton. Even though Cam was never found to have violated the NCAA rules by accepting money, he continues to be called a cheat just like Manziel will be for the foreseeable future. Some journalists are more mature about their approaches to Heisman voting. Most sports writers who are given the opportunity to cast a Heisman ballot are level headed, and understand a few fundamental principles: People are innocent until proven guilty, the first thing to think about is the player's performance, and kids do REALLY stupid things like get into fights sometimes.

So, who the hell ripped the jam out of Mike Bianchi's doughnut? Well, he did.

If you missed it today, Mike Bianchi put out an article that he, after only seeing one week of College Football play, would absolutely not put Johnny Manziel on his ballot. Bianchi says that Manziel has "already disqualified himself from the opportunity to win back-to-back Heismans" because of the autograph incident. After not being found guilty by the NCAA, Mike Bianchi uses his intuition to focus on why he won't vote for Manziel:

"(It's) Not because of anything he’s done on the field, but because of what everybody pretty much knows he did off of it."

One characteristic of integrity is consistency in your actions. For that, I'll give Mike an A+. Back in 2010 he wrote a piece on why he wouldn't vote for Cam Newton, citing primarily that he was being investigated - even though he had not been found guilty. He compared his current reasoning on Manziel to Cam Newton:

I am not voting for Manziel for the same reason I didn’t vote for Cam Newton a couple of years ago. Newton was a college player who fled the University of Florida amid allegations of academic fraud and after he was found with a stolen laptop computer and threw it out the window when police arrived. He was a player whose recruitment was investigated by the NCAA and the FBI after his father reportedly tried to sell his son’s services to the highest bidder. Newton, of course, won the Heisman in a landslide despite the lack-of-integrity hat trick (legal issues, academic issues, NCAA issues) during his college career.

I underlined the portion of the quote above because it is integral to understanding Mike's mentality. See, the problem for Mike isn't that he subscribes to McCarthyism (at least not entirely), but that the entire story is also very personal.

Everyone knows about the money allegations, but not everyone really remembers the claims of stolen laptops and academic cheating. On November 3rd, 2010, Mike Bianchi wrote an e-mail to the Sports Information Director at Auburn, Kirk Sampson. In that letter, Mike lets Kirk know that he has multiple sources confirming that Cam Newton cheated at Florida, and that Cam was having legal troubles due to the alleged laptop incident.

Mike does what any good journalist would do, and tries to get Cam to comment before running the story. But he also does something a bit peculiar. He sets the narrative that he expects to draw a confession out of Newton in whatever interview may come.

Here is the full text of the e-mail:

Kirk: This is Mike Bianchi, the sports columnist of the Orlando Sentinel. I hate to contact you under a situation like this, but felt it my journalistic responsability to let you know I am about to run a story about Cam Newton's departure from the University of Florida.

The gist of the story is that Cam was not only in legal trouble, but he had also been caught cheating in course work on at least two occassions and was in jeopardy of being put on academic suspension by the Student Honor Court. I have two sources within UF's academic community who have told me this.

As you can probably guess, this story will not be very flattering to Cam, but I did want to give him a chance to give his side of it and perhaps explain that he has grown up since then and that's one of the reasons he wanted a fresh start.

How you want to handle this situation is up to you and him, but I would appreciate it if you would get back to me one way or the other.

Either Bianchi was leading Sampson on to try for a confession and a bigger story (which could be construed as a lack of integrity) or Bianchi really was willing to forget past indiscretions. The problem for Mike was, a bigger story was ready to pop just 24 hours later.

The day after Bianchi sent this e-mail to Sampson, ESPN reported the allegations about Cecil Newton and Mississippi State being involved in a pay-to-play scheme for Cam's services. This was a much bigger story than just a laptop and a bunk homework assignment. This was the news that would wrap up every sports journalist for the remainder of the season (sound familiar?).

So Mike was sitting on a story that was basically worthless, and neither Cam Newton, Cecil Newton, or Auburn would be talking about any of the allegations any time soon. Mike sat on the story for a bit, and then on November 8th, Thayer Evans of Fox Sports broke the story Bianchi had been holding on to. The same Thayer Evans who wouldn't even list Manziel on his ballot since he had three pending criminal charges (for a fight).

Well now Mike completely lost his story. Someone published before him, and it was already being spun into the news cycle to refuel the discussions. So what does Mike do? On November 9th he writes a very short piece alluding to the fact that he was on to this, and basically saying "Hey Guys, I know I live in Florida and should have been on top of this, and guess what, I was!" Here is the FULL article:

If the charges of academic cheating against Cam Newton aren't true then he should come out and say they aren't true.

The Heisman Trophy may depend upon it.

A few days ago, I gave Newton and his father Cecil the opportunity to set the record straight regarding the charges of academic fraud and the circumstances surrounding his mysterious departure from the University of Florida. They refused when I approached them with allegations of academic malfeasance similar to the ones that were reported by Monday night.

So in the course of just a few days, Mike turned from someone who wanted to give Cam a chance to explain that he had grown up to someone who wouldn't vote for Cam Newton, and in his words "No matter what." That means even if Cam is found to have committed no fraud - which guess what, he was - Mike still wouldn't give him his vote.

Since the Cam Newton story, Mike Bianchi is determined to only vote for the perfect human being to be a Heisman Trophy winner. From 2010 on, his approach to Heisman voting is essentially to throw the game tapes out the window and give me Tim Tebow! I'm honestly surprised he hasn't tried to write him in for the last couple of years.

Well, we know where Bianchi stands this year, and the year has hardly played out. The best thing Mike did with his entire article on Manziel today was to point out the hypocrisy that exists in the media as he calls out the people that have blasted him on his positions in the past.

Amazingly, those of us who left Newton off of our ballots back then became pariahs and were chastised by ESPN personalities such as Mel Kiper Jr. and Paul Finebaum. Kiper actually said those who didn't vote for Newton should be stripped of their ballots. Finebaum - during a back-and-forth exchange with me on ESPN's "Outside the Lines" - scoffed when I mentioned the Heisman's "integrity" clause and chortled that the clause meant "nothing."

No matter what you try to attack Mike with, he will always point you back to the same place. The top line of the Heisman Trophy mission statement:

"The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity."

That's right, Mike. The Heisman Trophy does pursue excellence with integrity. Unfortunately, the term journalist has bamboozled most folks into thinking you would do the same.

As I said before, integrity is showing consistency in action, and Mike can hold on to that. But assigning guilt to someone without proof, continuing an assault without truthfulness, and not being straightforward with those you seek to report on not only shows a lack of integrity, but is also unethical. Thank goodness there are so many Heisman voters out there. The number of folks who can apply integrity to the relative values of their community and not as an absolute morality grounded without proof will always outweigh the crazies.

The voting for the Heisman Trophy deserves people who will vote with the evidence in front of them, and not based on what "pretty much everybody knows."


Another note Mike. In April of this year the Heisman Trust issued a statement to voters. Voters were asked to sign a guarantee by April 8th that they would not disclose their ballots before the Heisman award was presented. This of course is just to ensure higher ratings for the program, and a number of journalists including Dennis Dodd at CBS opted to no longer keep their vote.

So, by effectively talking about anything having to do with your ballot, you have violated the agreement you made with the Heisman trust in April. If the Heisman Trust has any of the integrity that you seem to build your house on, then they should strip you of your ballot immediately. Or, what would be even better is if you gave it up, and showed that you understand how to honor an agreement. You obviously have no issues judging others on whether or not they do.

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