Emmert's NCAA loses more credibility after Miami misstep
During a teleconference on Wednesday to discuss an embarrassing breach of conduct in the NCAA enforcement department's investigation of Miami, a reporter prefaced his question to Mark Emmert with a courtesy: "Good afternoon, how are you?"
"I've had better days," the NCAA president replied.
For your sake, Mark, here's hoping you've had a better 26 months.
The NCAA has long been a lightning rod for criticism with its maddening layers of bureaucracy, antiquated rulebook and role as the bad guy when anybody's favorite school gets punished. But during Emmert's tenure, which began in 2010, the NCAA has engendered a whole different level of fury thanks to a never-ending series of self-inflicted controversies and missteps. Nearly all involve the process by which the governing body investigates and punishes rule-breakers. And that makes Wednesday's news about the Miami probe all the more galling.
Having spent nearly two years investigating the most extensive and salacious pay-for-play scandal since SMU, and reportedly right on the cusp of finally issuing a Notice of Allegations, the NCAA has revealed that its entire case is now in jeopardy due to an astonishing breach of conduct. Over the course of investigating ex-Miami booster and convicted Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro's claims that he supplied a decade of Hurricanes' athletes with extra benefits (with the knowledge and possibly approval of various coaches and staff members), someone at the NCAA apparently hired Shapiro's personal bankruptcy attorney, Maria Elena Perez, for the purpose of deposing witnesses and collecting information on the organization's behalf.
"This is obviously a shocking affair," said Emmert. "We have to get the answer to, how did this individual who was working with Shapiro end up engaging in these activities on our behalf? It's stunning that this has transpired."
The conduct in question apparently centers around the December 2011 testimony of former Miami equipment staffer and Shapiro conduit Sean Allen, who told CBS Sports last September that he was shocked to find NCAA investigator Ameen Najjar in the room upon arriving to his deposition in Shapiro's bankruptcy case. Even after Allen asked that Najjar leave, he still faced a barrage of Miami-related questions with seemingly little relevance to bankruptcy. And unlike in his NCAA interviews, he was now under oath.
Emmert provided no names on Wednesday, but CBS reported last week that Najjar was fired last year. Emmert said the NCAA became aware of possible improprieties last fall when invoices began showing up for "legal work that had not been approved." And yet, as recently as Sunday, word was leaking that Louisville football assistant Clint Hurtt and Missouri basketball coach Frank Haith -- both named in Yahoo!'s report -- were about to be charged with unethical conduct allegations.
In other words, one arm of the NCAA was proceeding on the path to formal allegations last weekend, while Emmert was meeting with the Board of Directors to inform them of the possible ethical breech at the same time. You'd call these guys Keystone Kops if not for the fact they make actual Keystone Kops look like Dragnet.
If this were a criminal case, the judge would immediately declare a mistrial. How do you prosecute a party after admitting you acquired some evidence through nefarious means? Yet, this being Emmert's NCAA, the governing body has hired a corporate investigator, Kenneth L. Wainstein, to conduct a review. Emmert said the probe should take an estimated seven to 10 days -- two weeks tops -- at which point it will discard whatever information Wainstein decrees was obtained inappropriately (which Emmert says is a "small portion" of the overall evidence against Miami) and proceed with the case as planned.
Wow, what a credible process that will be. But then again, credibility has moved swiftly in the opposite direction of the organization's Indianapolis headquarters throughout Emmert's tenure at the helm.
Remember the Cam Newton "loophole?" That was a good one. How about Ohio State's Tattoo Five being allowed to play in the Sugar Bowl thanks to some obscure waiver? Thank goodness they protected the "integrity" of a game that was later vacated. Last year, in a shameless abuse of power, Emmert shucked any notion of precedent or protocol in doling out his own personal Penn State penalties. The state of Pennsylvania is filing a suit over that one. Meanwhile, last fall, an NCAA investigator was reportedly fired after her boyfriend blabbed to a fellow airplane passenger about her pursuit of UCLA basketball freshman Shabazz Muhammad (he was reinstated shortly thereafter), while a Los Angeles judge ripped the organization for its "malicious" treatment of former USC running backs coach Todd McNair (implicated in the Reggie Bush case).
But this Miami thing -- this one takes the cake.
Granted, enforcement is just one small division of a much larger enterprise, but besides running the NCAA basketball tournament, it's easily the organization's most visible function. And right now it's a joke. While Emmert has been busy patting himself on the back for pushing through recent reforms like stricter academic penalties and a more streamlined rulebook, two years of bizarre, or, in the Miami case, corrupt enforcement decisions have destroyed what little confidence the public still held in his organization.
"I'm very concerned about it," said Emmert. He should be. Just as the NCAA's new, tougher penalties will hold head coaches responsible for violations by their staff members, Emmert is accountable for everything that transpires in Indianapolis. And despite his tough talk on Wednesday, Emmert's leadership has never been more in question.
It was staggering how many times during Wednesday's conference call that Emmert gave qualifiers such as "I wasn't personally aware," or "You're probably asking the wrong guy." The Miami investigation was already going to be one of the most scrutinized endeavors of his tenure before these revelations. Don't tell us you were some helpless bureaucrat whose employees went rogue -- not after the hubris you demonstrated during last summer's Penn State p.r. stunt.
Ultimately, the NCAA is comprised of its members. How many black eyes are they willing to keep taking? Because the bleeding only seems to get worse the longer their current president keeps doing the fighting.