Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Miami, NCAA Both Look Awful

Yahoo! Sports reporter Charles Robinson has done some pretty damn good work over the years, but his takedown of the University of Miami football program Tuesday might be the best yet.

Robinson's story can be found here, and a follow-up column from Dan Wetzel is here.

The basics ...

In 100 hours of jailhouse interviews during Yahoo! Sports’ 11-month investigation, Hurricanes booster Nevin Shapiro described a sustained, eight-year run of rampant NCAA rule-breaking, some of it with the knowledge or direct participation of at least seven coaches from the Miami football and basketball programs. At a cost that Shapiro estimates in the millions of dollars, he said his benefits to athletes included but were not limited to cash, prostitutes, entertainment in his multimillion-dollar homes and yacht, paid trips to high-end restaurants and nightclubs, jewelry, bounties for on-field play (including bounties for injuring opposing players), travel and, on one occasion, an abortion.

Also among the revelations were damning details of Shapiro’s co-ownership of a sports agency – Axcess Sports & Entertainment – for nearly his entire tenure as a Hurricanes booster. The same agency that signed two first-round picks from Miami, Vince Wilfork and Jon Beason, and recruited dozens of others while Shapiro was allegedly providing cash and benefits to players. In interviews with federal prosecutors, Shapiro said many of those same players were also being funneled cash and benefits by his partner at Axcess, then-NFL agent and current UFL commissioner Michael Huyghue. Shapiro said he also made payments on behalf of Axcess, including a $50,000 lump sum to Wilfork, as a recruiting tool for the agency.

In an effort to substantiate the booster’s claims, Yahoo! Sports audited approximately 20,000 pages of financial and business records from his bankruptcy case, more than 5,000 pages of cell phone records, multiple interview summaries tied to his federal Ponzi case, and more than 1,000 photos. Nearly 100 interviews were also conducted with individuals living in six different states. In the process, documents, photos and 21 human sources – including nine former Miami players or recruits, and one former coach – corroborated multiple parts of Shapiro’s rule-breaking.

Miami's response was, well, underwhelming.

Miami coach Al Golden, who was hired in December, acknowledged Tuesday that some of his players may have made mistakes.

"We'll stay focused. I'm certain of that," Golden said. "We're disappointed but we're not discouraged. And again, there's going to be a life lesson here. We're talking about allegations from a man that's behind bars, now. If these do hold some truth, then we'll deal with them. There's no other way to do it."

Current Miami players were not made available to comment Tuesday, and will not be made available before Wednesday's practice, the university said.

This is a severe indictment of "The U," as Mike DeCourcy writes.

“We didn’t have any suspicion that (Shapiro) was doing anything like this,” Dee told The Palm Beach Post. “He didn’t do anything to cause concern.”

That’s a painfully soft defense against charges so profound. Whereas Memphis took the NCAA’s approval of Rose’s eligibility as a sign that he was—you guessed it—eligible, Dee has nothing more to offer than this to explain his department’s failure to notice the apparently rampant rule-breaking in a football program with such an appalling past it warranted near-constant scrutiny.

It always seemed incongruous, Dee’s presence as infractions committee chair. He was athletics director at Miami when more than 50 football players were alleged to be among the participants in a massive fraud of the federal Pell Grant system, when the Hurricanes later were banned from playing in a bowl game and stripped of dozens of scholarships.

The problem is that this isn't just an indictment of Miami. You see, once is an accident, twice is a trend, and the NCAA's way of doing things has been called into question too many times recently for the questioners to be in the wrong.

Dee, you may recall, was the Committee on Infractions chairman for USC's much-publicized case last summer involving former stars Reggie Bush and O.J. Mayo. It was Dee who, in announcing some of the stiffest penalties of the last 20 years (a two-year bowl ban and 30 docked scholarships), closed with the preachy reminder that "high-profile athletes demand high-profile compliance."

Dee, Miami's AD during most of the period covering Shapiro's allegations, is retired and no longer under NCAA jurisdiction. Still, it seems only fair he should spend a day at USC's Heritage Hall wearing a sandwich board with the word "Hypocrite."

See if this sounds familiar: "We didn't have any suspicion that he was doing anything like this. He didn't do anything to cause concern."

I'm fairly certain I heard Pete Carroll say something to that effect, repeatedly, about Bush's time at USC. He insisted there's no way he or anyone else at the school could have known that Bush's parents were living the high life in San Diego -- a defense Dee and his committee sharply rebuked.

But no, those were the words of Dee himself, Tuesday, to the Palm Beach Post, in regards to Shapiro's allegations. Seriously. The same guy whose committee lamented the access outsiders had to the Trojans' locker room and sidelines also told the Post that, " [Shapiro] would come by, ask to go out to practice and we would send one of our staffers to accompany him."

And the problems with the NCAA all start at the top.

With college athletics burning down before our eyes, Emmert has only thrown handmade Molotov cocktails on the inferno since becoming NCAA president in October.

During his embarrassing 10-month tenure, he’s overseen Connecticut being placed on probation in basketball and the Huskies winning the national championship less than two months later.

Auburn won the BCS title in January, but only after the NCAA restored the eligibility of former star quarterback Cameron Newton, who had been declared ineligible for his father’s shopping of him to Mississippi State for $180,000 in an attempted pay-for-play scheme. The Tigers, however, remain under NCAA investigation.

Oh, and there’s Oregon, the loser of January’s BCS title game, which is also under NCAA investigation for a $25,000 payment it made to Will Lyles, who claims he was paid for his influence with his recruits.

Let’s also not forget Ohio State’s lying and cheating in football, which the NCAA also reportedly still is investigating.

This is a painful time to be a college sports fan. Even if you're a fan of a school that hasn't been caught with the proverbial hand in the cookie jar, you have to think it's just a matter of time.

Either that, or you're a fan of something like the Tulane football program that is simply not any good, and you aren't worried about cheating. You're just wondering if your program will ever figure out how to cheat enough to be successful like everyone else win.

It's a sad reality. College football is fantastic fun, great drama, and the passionate crowds and bands make for a superb atmosphere. There are some who argue it's more fun to watch college football than it is the NFL.

However, until the NCAA figures out how to get some control over the sport, it will never reach its full potential. And, no, raising the APR standards won't make the sport cleaner. In fact, that move will probably make for more academic fraud problems than we've heard about lately.

Thank goodness the media has a guy like Charles Robinson around, because he has unearthed two huge scandals in college sports, and there are probably dozens he could look at next. At some point, the NCAA has to take concrete steps to prevent such scandals, or everyone involved will suffer -- even if it's just guilt by association.

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