A scandal in college sports? Impossible. We're shocked, shocked, to borrow from Inspector Renault in "Casablanca,'' He was talking about illicit gambling, which in a way would put him in fine stead these days when dealing with undergraduate games.
This time the issue is not about people wagering, on themselves, on horses, not even on the turn of a card. The issue is that arguably the best non-pro football player in the land - make that, non-NFL pro player in the land - one Cam Newton of Auburn, is accused of cheating, stealing and selling his talent.
Certain individuals are outraged Newton or his advisor/father would debase the lofty ideals of intercollegiate competition. Others are no less outraged he was careless enough to get caught.
Darryl Rodgers, so skilled a football coach he turned San Jose State into a winner - he also coached another school nicknamed Spartans to national prominence, Michigan State - is credited with the wise observation about his profession, to wit: "They'll fire you for losing before they fire you for cheating.''
Especially in the Southeastern Conference where among such institutions as Alabama, LSU, Florida, Georgia and, yes, Auburn, nothing quite means as much as beating those other schools. You think the winner of the 'Bama-Auburn game is concerned about the team's graduation rate?
Disillusionment? Is there anything else? Tiger Woods? Brett Favre? Alberto Contador? What else is new? According to some Stephen Sondheim lyrics written 45 years ago, nothing. It's old, very old.
‘'I was taught,'' goes a Sondheim song, "when the prince and the dragon fought, that the dragon was always caught. Now I don't even wince, when it eats the prince.''
When Reggie Bush has to give back his Heisman.
When University of North Carolina admits to "academic misconduct'' involving football players.
When Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl lies to the NCAA about improper phone contact involving recruits.
Dragons everywhere. The princes probably are holed up trying to avoid getting run over by Cam Newton, who as we know is one fine athlete. Or he wouldn't be in this mess.
Eventually he'll be in the NFL, for which, along with the NBA, college sports serve as a training ground and farm system. And if he gets suspended - fat chance - or Auburn gets reprimanded, it won't mean much on draft day.
What does mean something at the moment is voters are casting ballots for the Heisman Trophy, and Newton is the favorite. Or was.
Only weeks ago Bush returned his 2005 Heisman, an unprecedented gesture, because questionable dealings allegedly similar to Newton's brought about severe penalties from the NCAA against Reggie's school, Southern California.
It all comes down to success and fame, no matter how they're achieved. Al Davis the Raiders' owner said it all. "Just win, baby.'' Just win, and ESPN searches you out. Just win and Boise State becomes as famous as Ohio State. Just win, and the alumni donations increase.
This point has been made, ad nauseum: Many student-athletes as they are so-labeled are more athlete than student. These aren't kids from the dorms good enough to make the team. They were brought in to play, not go to lectures.
Sure, we're into this stuff too deep to ever get out, but as someone named Elbert Hubbard insisted, "Football is a sport that bears the same relationship to education as bullfighting does to agriculture.''
As if anyone at Auburn is going to take the idea seriously. They've got a full house at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Got a quarterback who may get them into the BCS championship game. They've also got a quarterback who may get them into trouble, although who knows in either case?
What we do know is that as long as sports is virtually bigger than life at too many campuses, nothing is going to change. There will be a head-shake here and a wrist-slap there, but not much else.
Schools will take chances. Athletes, knowing the schools will take chances, will try to take advantage of the schools.
The cynics who understand - isn't that all of us? - accept the flaws and frauds while wishing fixes could be made to a system which is completely unfixable. But as proven from the millions it earns not unacceptable.
Cam Newton? There's a photo of him, in an undergrad version of the Lambeau Leap, up against the edge of the stands being embraced by ecstatic fans after a win in October over LSU.
The presumption is not anyone in the picture is concerned how and why Newton left Florida, didn't enroll at Mississippi State and ended up at Auburn. Any hint of scandal would be treated like an empty beer cup. Squashed.