Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Obligatory Miami-goes-boom reaction

The most thorough and destructive investigation of an athletic department in the past 30 years came down the pipe Tuesday. If you haven't read it, please do -- it's well worth your time.

When the reports started leaking out Monday night and basically went "Miami booster in Ponzi scheme talks about giving players stuff," I figured it was something along the lines of the Ed Martin/Fab Five scandal, where a booster with a bunch of inappropriately acquired money was just tossing it around to people while the school was unaware (or mostly unaware, depending on what you believe about Steve Fisher). But man ... that was definitely not the case.

Shapiro said he violated NCAA rules with the knowledge or direct participation of at least six coaches – Clint Hurtt, Jeff Stoutland and Aubrey Hill on the football staff, and Frank Haith, Jake Morton and Jorge Fernandez on the basketball staff. Multiple sources told Yahoo! Sports Shapiro also violated NCAA rules with football assistant Joe Pannunzio, although the booster refused to answer any questions about that relationship. Shapiro also named assistant football equipment manager Sean Allen as someone who engaged in rulebreaking and equipment managers Ralph Nogueras and Joey Corey as witnesses to some of his impropriety.

The booster said his role went one step farther with the basketball program, when he paid $10,000 to help secure the commitment of recruit DeQuan Jones. Shapiro said the transaction was set up by assistant coach Jake Morton in 2007 who acted as the conduit for the funds, and was later acknowledged by head coach Frank Haith in a one-on-one conversation.

Strip club visits included both coaches and players – something that was referenced in a portion of federal testimony by Chicago real estate investor Sherwin Jarol, who was deposed in Shapiro’s Ponzi case. At one point in his testimony, a recording of which was viewed by Yahoo! Sports, Jarol describes a pair of August 2008 visits to Solid Gold nightclub with Shapiro. He says “the coach of the Miami basketball” team (Frank Haith) attended one trip.
So yeah ... that guy was "rogue" the way Jim Tressel was rogue. And there's so much more, I don't even know where to begin. The guy was part-owner of (and recruiter for) a sports agency, held team parties on his yacht, hosted recruits, arranged and paid for hookers on his yacht and in hotels, had players staying at his house on a regular basis, re-established the "bounty" system set up by Luther Campbell back in the original days of Miami insanity, and so on. There are photos, many witnesses and thousands of court-obtained financial documents that back up all of this.

With all that established, Charles Robinson -- the best investigator the NCAA has ever had* -- goes for the win:

In hindsight, Shapiro said he looks at that moment and realizes Miami could have seized on countless incidents and ended his flagrant assault on NCAA bylaws. Just a 20-minute drive northwest from campus, across one of the causeways and into Miami Beach, Shapiro’s high-rolling routine with Hurricanes football players was on display on a daily basis. And according to Shapiro, all Miami needed to do was look.

But instead, Shapiro said he was enabled by the university, allowed to run the entire Miami team out of tunnel and onto the field – twice – and once honored on the field by former athletic director Paul Dee during a game. The same Paul Dee who wagged a finger at USC as the chairman of the NCAA’s committee on infractions in 2010, chiding the Reggie Bush/O.J. Mayo scandal as a systematic failure.

“High-profile players demand high-profile compliance,” Dee said while announcing USC’s sanctions.

Ouch. We're talking about years of rampant violations involving a major booster, numerous coaches, hundreds of players and some unknown number of recruits, most of it under the supposedly watchful eye of the freakin' chairman of the Committee on Infractions.

Here's the weird/tricky thing: Other than the handful of current players named in the story (Jacory Harris being one), everybody's gone. In the past year, entirely new football and basketball staffs have been hired, so there's no way to punish the coaches who were most prominently involved. But that didn't save Michigan after the similar-but-much-less-severe Fab Five stuff, and it certainly didn't save USC after Pete Carroll had jumped ship (just in time, no less) for the NFL. In that regard, I feel truly sorry for Al Golden and Jim Larranaga. The sanctions are coming, and they'll be bad.

Some Miami fans tried to save face with the inevitable statute-of-limitations argument, but there's a big caveat they're forgetting about: If there's an established "pattern of willful violations" that stretches beyond the four-year limit -- and I'm pretty sure this qualifies -- the statute of limitations can be extended to whenever that pattern began. In other words, everything Nevin Shapiro did since the time he became a booster in 2001 can and will be included in the eventual notice of allegations.

Oh, and then there's this:
As required by NCAA legislation for any institution involved in a major infractions case, Miami shall be subject to the provisions of NCAA Bylaw, concerning repeat violators, for a five-year period beginning on the effective date of the penalties in this case, February 27, 2003. Any major violation occurring between February 27, 2003 and February 26, 2008 would trigger repeat violator status for the Hurricanes.
Miami is in up to its eyeballs.

There was a pretty interesting article a couple weeks ago on FOX Sports with the headline "Have we seen the end of the NCAA death penalty?" Summary: Probably, but if there's a scandal that's "institutional" enough, the option should be there.

Miami obviously didn't have its board of trustees signing off on slush-fund payments to players like SMU did back in the day, but the coaching staff was (allegedly) setting up purchases of recruits and bringing guys to a booster's yacht while the athletic department was busy ignoring it and arranging even more access for him so the school could keep cashing his massive donation checks. Unless Auburn turns out to be as bad as some people think it is, these are probably the worst violations we're ever going to see.

So ... I have no idea if this reaches the level of "institutional" involvement necessary to bring up death-penalty talk among the typically cowardly people at the NCAA, but we're gonna find out.

*The NCAA should seriously just outsource its investigative work to Yahoo, which is constantly establishing just how little the NCAA can do to police itself and its institutions. And kudos to Yahoo, not only for the story but for the timing -- waiting until juuust after the Ohio State hearing to unleash something even bigger was pure brilliance.


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