Posted: Wednesday August 24, 2011 12:00PM ; Updated: Wednesday August 24, 2011 3:34PM
Stewart Mandel
Stewart Mandel>COLLEGE FOOTBALL MAILBAG

Concurrent scandals will put ACC leadership to test; more Mailbag

Story Highlights

ACC has failed to match SEC on field, but has kept pace with rule-breaking

Miami case looks worse because schools are now held to higher standards

LSU's Jordan Jefferson has not been charged, but his leadership is now in doubt

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Commissioner John Swofford and the ACC face the daunting prospect of dealing with the UNC and Miami scandals simultaneously.
Commissioner John Swofford and the ACC face the daunting prospect of dealing with the UNC and Miami scandals simultaneously.
Sam Sharpe/US PRESSWIRE

We begin this week's Mailbag with a programming note. As you may be aware, the 2011 season kicks off NEXT WEEK. You can expect three regularly scheduled pieces from me each week: College Football Overtime on Mondays, the Mailbag on Wednesdays and Weekend Pickoff on Fridays in addition to other assorted columns and features. Andy Staples will write his weekly Power Rankings on Tuesdays in addition to columns, features and restaurant reviews. And I'd strongly recommend getting acquainted with the newest addition to our team. Holly Anderson, formerly of Every Day Should be Saturday, brings her unique and hilarious insights to SI.com's new Campus Union blog, where she'll be opining multiple times a day.

But this already felt like Game Week for me. I had several hundred e-mail submissions to choose from; however, 80 percent of them had nothing to do with football games. Of the many, many Miami-related submissions, I tried to find a few that provided a more unique angle than "Will Miami get the death penalty?" or "(ANGRY) (ANGRY) the NCAA (ANGRY) hypocrisy (ANGRY ANGRY) broken."

Stewart, what are the odds of ACC commissioner John Swofford issuing an apology to the league's fan base for inviting Miami to join the conference? I don't blame Swofford for wanting to expand the league, but Boston College was not and is not a good fit and all Miami brought was its outlaw reputation and a mediocre football team that is a shadow of its glory days. The only school that has fit in is Virginia Tech, and it was a last-minute replacement for Syracuse when the Virginia legislature stepped in and demanded that Tech be invited or else.
-- Vince, Raleigh, N.C.

The odds are zero. But you raise an excellent point that's gone largely unnoticed outside Tobacco Road.

Eight years ago, Swofford set the college football world ablaze with the ACC's backroom courtship of Miami, infuriating his then-Big East counterpart, Mike Tranghese, and setting off a domino effect that rippled all the way to the WAC and Sun Belt -- all to turn his traditionally provincial basketball-driven league into a veritable football power conference. It certainly paid off financially: The league has gone from earning $20 million a year for its football television rights in 2003 to an average $155 million for football and basketball beginning this season. At the time, however, there was genuine debate about whether the expanded ACC had gained equal on-field footing with the SEC. If anything, the gap has widened. But the league has come to mirror the SEC of the late 1990s/early 2000s in one area: rampant rule-breaking.

Later this year, North Carolina will go before the Committee on Infractions for violations involving academic fraud, extra benefits and employing an assistant coach who was allegedly employed by an agent. While we don't know what the sanctions will be, the scandal cost Butch Davis his job and will likely doom that program to extended mediocrity. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech just went on probation for the second time in the last six years. And now Miami is accused of massive booster-related violations that will likely result in a lengthy investigation (over/under: three years) and heavy sanctions.

The ACC has always prided itself on integrity, and while there's nothing to suggest this is some sort of conference-wide epidemic, the UNC and Miami scandals are two huge stains to be dealing with at once. The Tar Heels were never particularly relevant in football to begin with, but the league has been banking heavily on the eventual resurgence of Florida State and Miami, the latter of which is likely now shelved indefinitely. Swofford has never been a particularly outspoken commissioner -- he mostly echoes what Mike Slive and Jim Delany say first about the NCAA or BCS -- but the next few years will be a real test of his leadership. If the SEC does in fact go forward with expansion, most assume it will talk to Virginia Tech, the ACC's recent stalwart. AD Jim Weaver was pretty vehement about his school's allegiance to its current conference when rumors first surfaced a couple of weeks ago, but you have to wonder whether the Miami situation will give Virginia Tech (or Florida State or Clemson) reason to reconsider.

The Mandel Initiative
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Many pundits are arguing the Miami scandal is "nothing" compared to SMU in the mid-80s. But haven't standards changed? Shouldn't schools be held to a higher standard now that compliance offices are the norm? What allegedly happened at Miami is disgusting; if anything, it should be more shocking than the SMU case. I can't see letting Miami off easy because things used to be worse. Your thoughts?
-- Sam, Montgomery, Ala.

Are these "pundits" you speak of writing on Miami message boards? Because I haven't heard those "nothing" comments you refer to. Having said that, I would urge anyone who's trying to presumptively compare the two cases to go back and do some research on what happened at SMU. (Easiest way: Rent the Pony Excess 30 for 30 documentary.) There you had an orchestrated scheme in which boosters essentially established a payroll for SMU players with the involvement and approval of school board members. They did this for years, were placed on probation several times, were explicitly warned by the NCAA to stop the practice immediately, yet kept doing it. Clearly, that's a more brazen disregard for rules on an institutional level than what's been alleged to date at Miami.

But you raise an interesting point about compliance. It's true that schools are held to a higher standard for self-policing these days. Therefore, I've got to believe the NCAA will be particularly interested in one specific anecdote from the Yahoo! report: the alleged 2007 press-box confrontation between Nevin Shapiro and Miami's associate athletic director for compliance, David Reed. If ever there were a red flag, that would be it. And according to several reports out of Miami, former coach Randy Shannon was apparently on to Shapiro and trying to distance his players from the booster. Did he say anything to Reed? If so, what did Reed do with the information? Why was Shapiro allowed continued access to all-things Miami? Why did the school name a players' lounge after him? Clearly there was a breakdown in oversight somewhere up the chain, which will go a long way toward determining the severity of the sanctions. Even that, however, is not in the same orbit as board members authorizing player payouts.

Stewart, lump me and the rest of Miami fans with the overly sensitive bunches at Southern Cal, Ohio State and Auburn. Oh, and I am admittedly a hypocrite because if Shapiro-Gate was happening at UF or FSU, I would be dancing on the ceiling. But I am a fan. I don't expect us to be reasonable. But what about the media? There seemed to be an overwhelmingly swift knee-jerk guilty verdict from media throughout the nation based on the Yahoo! report. What's your theory on the "fanatical" reaction of the media to the story instead of letting the process play out?
-- Jim, Ft. Lauderdale

Welcome to the club, Jim. Like your fellow brethren in the NCAA doghouse, you've come to the realization that the media suddenly morphs into a bunch of hyperbolic attack dogs whenever trouble lands at your doorstep. We live in a 24/7 media climate (and with Twitter, I'd actually call it a second-by-second media climate) where deliberative and reasoned analysis simply doesn't cut it. In the 48 hours following Yahoo!'s report, I was asked to appear on CNN, NPR and countless radio shows across the country, and every host or anchor asked the same question: "Will Miami get the death penalty?" Not: "Do you think these accusations are true?"

But you also have to consider the messenger. Yes, there's ample reason to question the credibility of a guy currently serving 20 years for his role in a Ponzi scheme, and if he'd spilled his guts to MyFootballBlog.com, we'd all be taking it with a grain of salt. But over the past five years, Charles Robinson and Yahoo! Sports have broken scandals at USC, Connecticut, North Carolina (the John Blake part) and Ohio State, and in every instance they were validated by the NCAA. You can pick apart various details all you want, but if Robinson says he spent 11 months corroborating Shapiro's allegations, I'm inclined to believe him. I understand that "shoot the messenger" is the default defense mechanism for any fan base of a school accused of malfeasance, but so far this particular messenger has been bulletproof.

Hey Stew, you still mad at USC? So the NCAA comes in and doesn't let USC go to a bowl game, what was Texas' excuse? Trojans will always be the best college football team ever. We know it and you know it.
-- Gabriel, San Jose, Calif.

I don't have the foggiest idea what you're trying to say here, but nevertheless, it's good to see the swagger is back at Troy, even if it took another school getting in trouble to make it happen.

 
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