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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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Dr. Donna Shalala


University of Miami

Coral Gables, Fla. 33124

Dear President Shalala:

I tapped out your address without having to look it up. That's because I've written a letter like this before, in 1995, to urge your predecessor, Edward (Tad) Foote, to drop football for the greater good of the University of Miami. President Foote didn't listen then. And little has changed since.

To judge by the particulars of an eight-year spree of lawlessness by one of your boosters, your football program has no regard for the rules, and your administration has no ability to enforce them. In an exhaustive report last week, Yahoo! Sports detailed how Nevin Shapiro—not just any booster, but one you permitted to fly on your team charter, lead your team onto the field, roam your sideline and fill your coffers so extravagantly that you named the players' lounge in the Hecht Athletic Center after him—plied athletes with improper benefits and collaborated with coaches in recruiting violations.

If anything, Yahoo! reporter Dan Wetzel, in a column about the 11-month investigation of your program by his colleague Charles Robinson, understated the tawdriness of the findings when he said, "For much of the 2000s, Miami was a de facto professional team and [Shapiro] was the owner." No NFL owner would have stocked hotel rooms and his own yacht with prostitutes and strippers for players' pleasure and sprung for an abortion when one of the women got pregnant. No NFL owner would have tried to install a stripper pole in his luxury box at Sun Life Stadium. No NFL owner would have offered cash bounties for incapacitating opposing quarterbacks, in the tradition of Luther (Uncle Luke) Campbell, the former 2 Live Crew frontman who set the standard for off-the-books Hurricanes boosterism back in the 1980s and '90s. (Shapiro so thoroughly surpassed that standard that your players, in homage, called him Li'l Luke.) In the pros, there would have been no compliance director for Shapiro to threaten, as he did yours in a drunken rage four years ago in the Orange Bowl press box. After that incident—when your athletic department finally discovered that Shapiro had a significant financial interest in a sports agency that represented many of the Miami players he had been showering with cash, gifts and services—your people, Shapiro says, did nothing.

You can't credibly claim that Shapiro was some rogue booster and that, now that he has been sentenced to prison for the next 20 years for running a $930 million Ponzi scheme, your athletic program will revert to a prelapsarian state. That's because Yahoo! implicated 73 athletes (including a dozen football players due to suit up this fall) as well as seven former football and basketball coaches and three staff members in violations committed from 2002 through '10. All would presumably be at risk for an unethical-conduct finding because each swore out an NCAA compliance statement every year. "From the start, I wasn't really challenged," Shapiro told Yahoo! at one point during 100 hours of interviews, at least 99 more than anyone in your compliance department seems to have done. "I did it because I could. And because nobody stepped in to stop me." Yahoo! splashed across the Web an image that suggests why nobody stepped in. It's a picture of you, beaming, next to Shapiro, who claims he had just handed you a check for $50,000 during a 2008 basketball fund-raiser.

This is terribly sad, and sadly familiar. During your time in Coral Gables, you've led Miami into the top 50 of U.S. News & World Report's national university rankings. President Foote had set your school on a similar path, only to have his effort to turn Suntan U into what he called "this generation's Stanford" undone by the football program.

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