Imagine my surprise when I turned on ESPN and the first thing I see on the ticker are the words “University of Miami”, “NCAA investigation”, “72 current and former player”, “convicted former booster”, and “Ponzi scheme” in one scroll. Actually, there was no surprise. We’ve already had, in no particular order, Ohio State, LSU, Auburn, North Carolina, USC, and Boise State, among others, visited by the NCAA since the BCS Championship game back in early January. The details of convicted felon Nevin Shapiro, a former Miami booster’s shenanigans with former and present players as
well as coaches and administrators takes the cake. Jim Tressel’s lies to cover up his star QB’s garage sale is absolutely nothing compared to what is coming out of Miami this week. By comparison, Tressel should be able to go to Columbus and demand his job back. If even just the parts that have been confirmed are true and nothing else, the penalties that should be levied against Miami should ensure that the school isn’t a viable football program till somewhere around 2020. If all of it is, and given what’s been confirmed so far, there’s nothing to say the rest isn’t, the ACC should be looking for a new school to join the conference. As I see it, the death of the University of Miami football program is nigh.
This story isn’t just about a convicted felon feeling betrayed by those he thought owed him something. Revenge is definitely part of this story. He says so himself “Some of those players—a lot of those players—we used to say we were a family. Well, who do you go to for help when you need it? You go to your family. Why the hell wouldn’t I go to them?” Shapiro felt a sense of entitlement given what he’d done for all these young men over the years. With so much of the Yahoo! Sports story independently verified as there is, he does have a right to feel a little betrayed and hellbent on revenge. Yahoo! Sports Investigative Reporter Charles Robinson was able to confirm much of Shapiro’s story through interviews with former players and coaches, as well as pictures, credit card receipts, and other documents provided to him by Shapiro and his attorney. He definitely did his homework before putting pen to the proverbial paper.
The most damning part of Shapiro’s story is that the same information he has given the NCAA and to Yahoo! Sports, he first gave to Federal Prosecutors. As part of his deal to walk away with only 20 years at Club Fed, he had to recount almost dollar by dollar where the money went. He gave them the same documents that Robinson went through and the NCAA is presently sorting through. So much as one lie would have ensured that he never sees the light of day again. That he’s presently serving just the 20 years tells me that he’s telling the truth. If the Feds are convinced his story is legit, what’s the NCAA gotta think?
The NCAA has not handed out a “death penalty” to a program since SMU in 1986 which wiped out the 1987 and 1988 seasons at the school. And really, has SMU even been heard from since? After that, the NCAA said it would not hand out any others due to the ripple effect it caused throughout all of college football. Some contend, it was the downfall of the Southwest Conference. They are re-thinking that stance. I am happy to see that NCAA President Mark Emmert has said he will leave all options on the table. This is not the first time Miami has been all over the NCAA’s radar. They have had off-field issues going back to the 1980s and issues of improper benefits to players, namely via one Luther Campbell, a member of the rap group 2 Live Crew. He rewarded players for doing such things as scoring touchdowns, making big hits, injuring players, etc. Players and others associated with the program in the 90s had their hands all over the Pell Grant cookie jar for over $200,000. This is on top of the more than $400,000 in other benefits provided to players. The NCAA whacked 30 scholarships from the school and took away one bowl game trip from them; several if you include the damage from fewer scholarships.
This scandal broke just a week after Emmert held a summit of athletic directors, college presidents and chancellors, as well as conference chairmen in an effort to re-write the NCAA rulebook. His basis—there is too much time being spent investigating misdemeanors, and worrying about being “…busy catching the jaywalkers as they walk into the bank while someone is taking the vault out the back” as Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe put it. It is time for the NCAA to stop worrying about the petty things like a text message checking up on a recruit or a telephone call. Those things, with the advent of computerized cell phone records will catch themselves. Time needn’t be spent pretending college athletics are Mayberry. It’s time to think of it as the Old West and clean it up accordingly.
The NCAA will employ its “willful violators” clause so that it will be able to investigate all of Shapiro’s allegations back to the beginning in 2002. They are now free to act on the entire sordid story of sex, money, gifts, and everything else that this story includes. The NCAA will both tell Miami that they are not above the law and give a nuclear bomb sized message to everyone else that the free-for-all in every sport the last few years is over. According to the Wall Street Journal, only 17 schools that play D1 football (I refuse to use the dumbass name Football Bowl Subdivision) have never been hit with a major violation by the NCAA since 1953 when those records began being kept. FYI, there are 120 D1 schools. It is pathetic, however, that it took the sports equivalent of a Danielle Steele novel to get to this point.
Ohio State had Terrelle Pryor and his merchandise for tattoos saga along with Jim Tressel’s cover up and subsequent termination. North Carolina had academic improprieties and improper benefits in its football program that lead to the termination of (former Miami coach during the Pell Grant scandal) Butch Davis. BCS National Champion Auburn is under fire for potential major recruiting violations including how Heisman Trophy winner and NFL overall #1 draft pick Cam Newton ended up in their laps. Three time and current NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Coach Jim Calhoun of Connecticut was suspended three games for recruiting violations. If you put all those violations together along with the issues at USC, they don’t even begin to match the depth of Miami’s hole. Miami has cash payments, gifts including jewelry, car rims, and trips. It has meals at some of Miami’s most exclusive restaurants. VIP access at clubs you find Hollywood A-listers frequenting. There were sex parties at hotels and then on Shapiro’s million and a half-dollar yacht involving prostitutes. It had Shapiro even paying for one of these women to have an abortion to help the player who got her pregnant. “I was doing him a favor. He might have wanted to keep the baby.” All this was given to players voluntarily by Shapiro and all the players had to do was call him up and ask. Shapiro also placed bounties of up to $5000 if players were to knock out players on the opposing team a la Luther Campbell. He was a game show host in a better suit.
I think what has me jumping up and down screaming about all this is the people who should have stopped it, knew about it. Yet they let it go on, undeterred. It was either done as a recruiting tool (Shapiro says he was able to steer kids to the school) or simply for the money. School President Donna Shalala attended last week’s NCAA summit in Indianapolis. When she took the Miami job in 2001, she promised to run a school where the athletics department, hard hit by scandals past, would be a beacon of cleanliness and compliance for all of college athletics to follow. Uhhhhh, oops? What the hell. You’ve already hit a single, double, and triple over the past 25 years with the NCAA. Why not swing for the fences this time, right? If there ever was a picture to prove that college athletics is all about the Benjamins, may I present to you the photo provided by Shapiro that shows
him with former basketball coach Frank Haith and Shalala at a fundraiser. In that photo, Shapiro’s speaking on a microphone addressing Haith and the other attendees. Off on the side is Donna Shalala drooling over a $50,000 check just handed to her. I’m guessing I just answered my earlier question didn’t I? Shapiro admits that a simple search by the school would have shut him down years before the Feds ever figured out what he was up to. “That’s the whole problem right there. Let’s not kid ourselves. The whole time I was out there rocking and rolling, they were just waiting for the big check to come. And you know what? If I wasn’t sitting in jail right now, they probably would have gotten it, too.”
This went on for the better part of ten years. Coaches and administrators in two sports were included in the evidence presented by Shapiro to both the Feds and the NCAA. The players acted more like they were on an episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous than in school. Did they even bother to remember to go to class? Did they even have time given their social calendars? Now former players are trying to save the program. Players like Gino Torretta are blasting previous coaches Larry Coker and Randy Shannon as well as Shalala over this and how, as an alum, he’s disappointed that he may not get to see Miami play football again. Torretta blames the adults, or at least those that should have been acting like adults, for not doing their jobs protecting the student athletes asking “Why didn’t you ask: What kind of business are you in? Why do you want to give money to Miami when it isn’t your school? Those are simple questions.” They are. The zeros on the checks apparently made everyone stupid.
These former players have it right! The coaches are dealing with 18-21 year old young men who see piles of cash, naked women, big screen TVs, mansions, and anything else they could imagine. It’s what the Price is Right would look like on pay per view. It was on their watch. The school rakes in millions from their TV contracts, endorsements, and their affiliation with the ACC as part of the BCS. Second to the athletes, these are the things that needed protecting by the school’s athletic leaders. The former athletic director, Paul Dee, the same man who levied probation and other punishments upon USC over Reggie Bush and OJ Mayo as head of the NCAA Committee on Infractions, praised Shapiro for his commitment to the Miami program. If there was ever a proper definition for the phrase “the inmates are running the asylum” I think I just found it. Dee told USC at the time “High-profile athletes demand high-profile compliance.” Is it really that easy to be so prophetic, ironic, and hypocritical at the same time?
Yahoo! Sports took their time making sure they had verified as much of Shapiro’s story as they could before they went live with it. The NCAA has been looking into it since roughly March. Federal Prosecutors believed enough of the story that they allowed Shapiro’s 20 year deal to stand. This is a story of money, cars, yachts, hotels, prostitution, trips, mansions, and so many other salacious things that the NCAA’s decision should be simple. The pain will cross every part of the school. That the scandal hit the office of the President of the University of Miami, it probably should. She put money above everything, including quite possibly the future integrity and finances of the school’s academics. The NCAA should wipe South Beach with the carcass of the Miami football program. Mark Emmert’s summit and tough talk certainly haven’t been enough to get the message across.