Credibility of NCAA enforcement will be tested by Miami allegations
A former Miami booster spelled out major NCAA violations involving 73 athletes
Given the punishment USC got, the death penalty might be warranted in this case
With active players and coaches implicated, a number of teams could be affected
Reading through Yahoo! Sports' bombshell expose about former Miami booster Nevin Shapiro, my blood boiled thicker with every paragraph. But who exactly was I angry at?
Strangely, it wasn't Shapiro, the jocksniffing, 5-foot-5 sleazebucket with one hell of a Napolean complex. The man comes off mostly pathetic for thinking the 18- and 19-year-olds whom he took to nightclub VIP rooms, bought prostitutes for and handed over the keys to his yacht were actually his friends -- the kind of friends, mind you, who inexplicably abandoned him when he got sent to jail for his part in a $930-million Ponzi scheme.
Certainly it wasn't the players, who, though they knowingly jeopardized their eligibility and flaunted their status as football players, could no more resist the temptations of South Beach than any other 18- or 19-year-old. We didn't get mad at Ohio State players for getting free tattoos; we got mad at their coach for finding out and doing nothing about it.
It probably should be Miami president Donna Shalala, the long-outspoken advocate for her football program who recently bragged to ESPN the Magazine about monitoring the sidelines on game days for suspicious guests, yet was caught on camera, beaming over a $50,000 donation from the rogue booster himself. But no, not angry -- that picture's too funny. (She should still resign first thing Wednesday.)
Actually, one man towers over this story, even though he's only briefly mentioned: Former Miami athletic director Paul Dee.
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."
You can't make this stuff up.
In seriousness, the USC and Miami cases do share much in common, starting with the fact Yahoo!'s impeccable investigative ace, Charles Robinson, broke both stories. The amounts of documentation and eyewitness corroboration that accompany Shapiro's allegations make them nearly impossible to refute.
Both involve glamour programs in large, pro-dominated cities that tend to attract rich bandwagon hangers-on. Some, like Will Ferrell at USC, just like to watch football. Others, like Shapiro, covet the adulation of athletic 19-year-olds.
Both involve figures that tried to haphazardly get in on the sports-representation business. Unlike Lloyd Lake and Michael Michaels, who never did get that payday endorsement deal from Bush, Shapiro apparently succeeded, briefly, using his connections and wads of cash to sway former Hurricanes Vince Wilfork and Jon Beason to a sports agency he co-owned.
(Can we stop here for a second and take that one in? Two Miami players signed with an agency partly owned by one of its own boosters. If there were no other allegation in the entire report, that one on its own would make headlines.)
And now, here's where the two cases differed: USC's involved one football (Bush) and one basketball (Mayo) player. Yahoo's report implicates 73 athletes over an eight-year span, though Shapiro claims he gave impermissible benefits to 72.
The bagmen in the USC case did most of their dirty work in San Diego, far from the campus itself. Shapiro was an active Miami booster, so coveted for his donations he got to lead the team out of the tunnel, sit in the press box on game days, and had a lounge named in his honor.
And for all the hubbub over the Bush case, at the end of the day, USC gained no competitive advantage in football due to its running back's extra benefits. Miami, on the other hand, had assistant coaches allegedly arranging for recruits to meet Shapiro on their visits. On the basketball side, he allegedly paid $10,000 in 2007 explicitly to land a recruit, DeQuan Jones.
If USC got a two-year bowl ban and 30 docked scholarships, what should Miami get for an encyclopedia of allegations so tawdry as to make USC look like a bubble-gum shoplifter? Can you ban a team from the postseason for a decade? Can you take away 90 scholarships? Not likely. All that's seemingly left is the biggie -- the death penalty -- and it's entirely possible: Miami qualifies as a repeat violator for any violations before Feb. 27, 2008, stemming from it mid-90s Pell Grant scandal. But the NCAA hasn't gone there in 25 years.
Once again, the NCAA's entire enforcement process is under the microscope -- just a week after president Mark Emmert promised sweeping changes. The Committee on Infractions notoriously shows little-to-no consistency or adherence to precedent in issuing its verdicts, but Dee himself painted his former employer into a corner on this one. If you're going to rake one school over the coals for a single player's impermissible benefits, your entire credibility is at stake if you don't raise the consequences exponentially for a case involving 73.
But before we can even get to that, we have to go through the investigation -- and this one figures to be every bit as long and arduous as USC's four-year probe. (Investigators just arrived on campus Monday.) It's a sad but unavoidable indictment of the enforcement process that it takes a desperate, publicity-seeking con man like Shapiro for these violations to even come to light -- and even then only after Yahoo!'s reporters lay the groundwork.
In the meantime, this story has massive, immediate consequences for not only Miami but several programs around the country.
Among those named in Yahoo!'s report (which includes individual pages detailing the specific violations alleged against each player, many with audio of Shapiro's interviews with the feds) are current 'Canes quarterback Jacory Harris, receiver Travis Benjamin, safety Ray Ray Armstrong, linebacker Sean Spence and defensive tackle Marcus Forston -- some of the most important players on the team. Normal protocol says Miami declares them ineligible until their statuses are resolved and any found benefits can be repaid -- and that could take awhile. One former 'Cane accused of accepting benefits, quarterback Robert Marve, is now at Purdue. His status may now be in limbo as well. Ditto, Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown.
And then there are the coaches. Yahoo! raises some pretty serious charges against former basketball coach Frank Haith, now at Missouri, If they're true they could cost him his job. Two former football assistants, Jeff Stoutland and Joe Pannunzio -- accused of taking recruits to Shapiro's home -- are now on Nick Saban's Alabama staff. The NCAA will have questions for them. Ditto, Clint Hurtt (Louisville) and Aubrey Hill (Florida). Unlike all those former 'Canes players now in the NFL, the active coaches are obligated to cooperate with investigators.
Meanwhile, two particular coaches go conspicuously unmentioned throughout Yahoo!'s report: Former head coaches Larry Coker and Randy Shannon. Apparently, they were unaware. Coker was oblivious enough in general to believe it, and it wouldn't surprise me if Shannon helped drive Shapiro away. By 2007 (Shannon's first season), Miami's compliance director, David Reed, was apparently so aggressive about policing player-booster contact it nearly drove a drunken Shapiro to punch him out in the press box.
And if Shannon was unaware of his players' off-campus activities, what chance did Dee have? Is a 60-something-year-old man supposed to hit the clubs on Friday night to check out who his players are hanging out with? Of course not. That's ridiculous.
Except that's exactly what he suggested USC should have been doing.
So go ahead, NCAA. Drop the hammer. If the Committee does in fact believe that high-profile athletes demand high-profile compliance, Miami took negligence to an entirely different level.