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August 29, 2011
A booster's corruption of the Hurricanes prompts a writer to rethink the letter he addressed to Miami's president in 1995. His recommendation is the same, but now there's a chance for real change
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August 29, 2011

16 Years Later, It's Time To Get Real

A booster's corruption of the Hurricanes prompts a writer to rethink the letter he addressed to Miami's president in 1995. His recommendation is the same, but now there's a chance for real change

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"I have no tolerance for breaking rules," you told a reporter from TIME earlier this month, when he asked how you had seemingly cleaned up the Hurricanes' program. But you must have already had some idea of what Yahoo! would report—the NCAA has been investigating Shapiro's involvement with the Hurricanes' athletic department for five months.

Again, a familiar ring: "If something is broken, we will fix it," Foote said in '95. "I believe and predict that the difficulties that have plagued the team in the past are history."

Because they're clearly not, you should do what President Foote didn't and drop football, at least temporarily. But you should do more. In its most scandal-addled hour, college sports needs you. You served on the original Knight Commission, set up more than two decades ago to make sure athletic programs reflected their universities' educational mission. During your five years as chancellor, you both turned Wisconsin into a winner and helped create an environment in which the NCAA would make three major infractions findings. But all that then, and all this now, is precisely why you're the person to lead a new cleanup effort. You'll have the credibility of a Scared Straight! testifier among juvenile delinquents. By making clear that you would have accepted the death penalty for Miami if you hadn't chosen the harder route of taking the hemlock yourself, you will have the clout to lead the calls for systemic reform.

The NCAA won't dismantle your football program for you. It hasn't used the death penalty for football since SMU in 1987. With so many BCS-member schools now depending on the bowl and TV payouts that go to their conferences, the NCAA won't make an entire league pay for one school's crime. But you must shut the program down to do more than just disinfect it. Shut it down out of respect for former coach Randy Shannon, whom you fired after last season for not winning enough—even though he had guided the team to the nation's third-best Academic Progress Rate and seems to have been the only person in Coral Gables who wanted nothing to do with Shapiro, reportedly warning his players to avoid him and threatening to fire assistants caught dealing with him. Pay new coach Al Golden and his staff the full value of their contracts as penance for your negligence, and set them free to pursue other jobs. Complete humility is in order, particularly in light of what Paul Dee, your athletic director during most of the Shapiro era, did to USC in 2008 in his role as chair of the NCAA's Committee on Infractions: He excoriated the Trojans for the Reggie Bush affair, during which the athletic department had turned a blind eye to Bush's relationship with a prospective agent who was showering the player with cash and gifts. "High-profile athletes," Dee said, "demand high-profile compliance."

Yes, it will be hard. Cynics will cackle that you were scheduled to play an institutional cellmate, Ohio State, in a few weeks. Skeptics will point out that in 1905 the leading investigative reporting publication of its day, McClure's Magazine, ran a lengthy series about sugar-daddy boosters, no-show jobs and "tramp athletes" among the college powers of that era—today's Ivy League schools—and no one has figured out a solution in the century since. And there's sure to be foot-dragging; earlier this month, at a "reform summit" of more than 50 university CEOs including yourself, the NCAA finally looked poised to tie postseason eligibility to academic performance, something you and your Knight Commission colleagues had recommended a full decade ago.

But you earned your nickname, Boom Boom, by getting things done. Surely you still know your way around Capitol Hill, your old haunt as a Clinton cabinet member. Go there. Shout, don't whisper, in the ears of legislators and get them to pass a bill that will make it a federal offense to compromise a college athlete's eligibility with improper benefits—something states such as Texas and Oklahoma have already done at that level. (Say what you will about the Miami Madoff, but Shapiro may be right: Cheating is even worse in the SEC, where, he says, "the money is an endless river.") Then urge Congress to threaten to revoke college sports' nonprofit status unless the NCAA gets more aggressive.

What would this all entail? Mark Emmert, now entering his second year as NCAA president, seems to be open to increasing grants-in-aid by the few thousand dollars per student that it would take to cover the full cost of the college-athlete experience, including travel to and from campus as well as family members' attendance at games. Under Emmert, the NCAA also finally appears to be ready to require that scholarships be guaranteed for four years and not be subject to the season-to-season whims of coaches—even though it usually takes five years or more to earn a degree once you account for redshirting and injuries.

Using all of your substantial influence, here's what else you need to compel the NCAA to do:

Overhaul the compliance process.

Compliance officers can't work for the schools they're scrutinizing. They need to answer to an autonomous body, ideally some agency certified by, but independent of, the NCAA. As it stands now, "they're paid to be firefighters, as opposed to police officers," says former agent Josh Luchs, who admits he flouted the rules before leaving the business to become a reform activist (SI, Oct. 18, 2010). Instead, Luchs says, think The Untouchables: "Not local cops on the take, but G-men."

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