Thursday, August 25, 2011

Miami crosses its collective fingers

As you might have heard, there are some guys at Miami who may or may not be ineligible for allegedly receiving boatloads of improper benefits from Nevin Shapiro. Miami president Donna Shalala said Wednesday that there are 15 athletes in question, but she didn't specify whether those guys played football or basketball or something else; the original Yahoo report named 12 football players.

According to the Miami Herald, eight of those players have been declared ineligible ... kind of:
The University of Miami has declared eight student-athletes – all believed to be football players – ineligible and has asked the NCAA to initiate the reinstatement process, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation.

Quarterback Jacory Harris is one of the ineligible athletes, the source said.

At least four other football players were not declared ineligible by the university because it is believed the impermissible benefits each allegedly received from former UM booster Nevin Shapiro totaled less than $100 -- meaning they can pay it back, usually by donating to a charity.

In order for UM to ensure that those deemed ineligible have a chance to play Sept. 5 in the opener at Maryland without risking severe penalties by the NCAA, UM had to declare them ineligible. The NCAA will now review each player’s case and either reinstate them – every case is handled individually – or rule how many games they have to sit out.
The NCAA process is kinda backwards (big surprise, right?): You have to declare a guy ineligible in order to get him a hearing with the NCAA and get verification of whether he's actually eligible. This is what Auburn did with Cam Newton last year right before the SEC title game, and it took the NCAA about two days (I think it was a Tuesday-to-Thursday deal) to rule him eligible. The big-picture investigation is supposedly* still ongoing.

In Miami's case, this is what you might call "damage control" -- they need to know exactly which guys are cleared to play so they don't end up vacating games and getting even more penalties tacked on in the long run. Everything is being done by the book now in hopes of salvaging some remnants of the program when the hammer comes down, which the school obviously sees as more important than potentially winning three or four extra games this year.

Speaking of which, while it's unclear exactly which eight players have been deemed ineligible, the full list of 12 was as follows: Jacory Harris, Sean Spence, Vaughn Telemaque, Ray Ray Armstrong, Travis Benjamin, Aldarius Johnson, Marcus Forston, Olivier Vernon, Marcus Robinson, Adewale Ojomo, Dyron Dye and JoJo Nicholas. That encompasses the nominal** starting QB, arguably the best linebacker in the ACC, both starting safeties, two of the top three receivers, three of the four starting defensive linemen and a starting corner. So yeah ... those aren't walk-ons. On the plus side, the offensive line is free and clear!

Without knowing the specifics of exactly what the school found in its investigation and which guys other than Harris have been ruled ineligible thus far, there's no point trying to project the extent of the damage outside of "potentially crater-tastic." I mean, there's no team in the country that could lose 75 percent of its defense and a significant chunk of its offense and not come out of it way, way worse. But it's probably gonna be bad (unless the NCAA compliance people have a lot less info than we think they have, which is always a possibility given the Ohio State findings). Either way, a hearing will be expedited and Miami will know one way or another within the next 10 days -- the season opener is September 5 against Maryland.

So if you're Al Golden, your fingers are crossed and sore from knocking against every piece of wood in your presumably fancy office. Fielding a shell of a team is no way to start a new high-expectations job or rebuild a program that's sailing directly into devastating long-term sanctions.

*I'm not really sure whether Auburn would have to give up its title if it turns out Newton was ineligible. If the NCAA says, "Yup, he's eligible" and you win a national championship, can they come back and say "Just kidding" and take it away? Paging Bylaw Blog ...

**It's a little odd that everybody's going "OMG not Jacory Harris" when Harris had all but lost the starting job by the end of last year anyway. Stephen Morris put up similarly mediocre stats (about 55 percent passing, more interceptions than touchdowns, etc.), but he also added a little bit of a running threat and at least offered hope for the future since he was only a freshman. FWIW, word from camp is that Harris and Morris have been splitting snaps with the first team.


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