The Miami Hurricanes And A Coming NCAA Storm

If you have been following College Football in any detail over the last few days - outside of the Bruins fall camp, that is - you have likely seen, or at least heard about the latest piece of investigative journalism by Charles Robinson over at Yahoo Sports, detailing a jawdropping series of assertions of improper benefits and other major NCAA violations - and supporting documentation - made by a former University of Miami booster. The Yahoo report is a long read but very much worth it for an understanding of, while Spencer Hall has written up the bare essentials of the alleged scandal at the SBN main page.

The basis for the report - and an NCAA investigation - is a series of interviews by Yahoo! reporters with Nevin Shapiro, a former Miami booster who is currently incarcerated for his role in a massive Ponzi scheme which went, in part, to financing his support for Hurricane athletics. The interviews, together with other aspects of an 11-month investigation by Robinson and the Yahoo Sports staff lay out nearly a decade of improper benefits provided to Miami student-athletes - mostly Football players, but the Basketball program has also been implicated - estimated to total over a million dollars. While providing benefits to players, he was a donor to Miami athletics, with the size of his checks and influence growing through the 2000's, but also co-owned a sports agency through many of those years. An agency that once the NFL came calling, represented some of the players that Shapiro had paid during their time at Miami. While credibility for a convicted felon like Shapiro cannot be taken for granted, Yahoo! has gathered enough supporting evidence to back up much of what he has told - as well as relaying his cooperation with federal prosecutors.

There really is more detail to the Yahoo! expose than I can possibly start to cover in this post, so I am going to summarize the big hits of the report today, using the bulletpoints of categories of violations found in the expose.

NCAA rule-breaking with coaches and staffers:

Shapiro said he violated NCAA rules with the knowledge or direct participation of at least six coaches – Clint Hurtt, Jeff Stoutland and Aubrey Hill on the football staff, and Frank Haith, Jake Morton and Jorge Fernandez on the basketball staff. ...

Among the specific incidents, Shapiro or other sources say Hurtt, Hill, Stoutland, Pannunzio and Allen all delivered top-tier recruits to Shapiro’s home or luxury suite so the booster could make recruiting pitches to them. ... "Hell yeah, I recruited a lot of kids for Miami," Shapiro said. "With access to the clubs, access to the strip joints. My house. My boat..." 

Robinson went on to mention additional coaches that he found evidence of having been involved with Shapiro, in addition to those named in the interviews. Frank Haith was Miami's head basketball coach during part of this period; proof of his involvement in Shapiro's violations would lead not only to his likely banishment from collegiate coaching, but a nice long period of the team staying on the local beaches come March.

Cash payments/bounties/tournaments:

While Shapiro said he never had a specific "payroll" for players, he did use a number of avenues to pay athletes. With players in his inner circle, Shapiro said he was often asked and never declined to give varying amounts of cash to a player who requested it out of need... According to summary documents acquired by Yahoo! Sports, it was such a regular occurrence that one of the other defendants in Shapiro’s Ponzi case, Roberto Torres, testified to it with federal prosecutors.

Shapiro also set up various "tournaments" where players won money for fishing, bowling and playing pool. ... Shapiro said he started a bounty system in 2002 tied to both rivalry games such as Florida State and Florida, and also games against highly ranked opponents.

Three sources, including two former Miami football players, confirmed that Shaprio offered bounties.

To keep from turning this into a novel, here's just a few of the other details in the report:

Shapiro named 39 Miami players or prospective recruits who he says received prostitution paid for by the booster.... two players confirmed the booster paid for sexual favors for themselves and others during their careers with the Hurricanes.

Various gifts were provided for a variety of reasons – sometimes as tokens to celebrate special occasions, other times as recruiting inducements for Shapiro’s agency, Axcess Sports. The booster said he doled out tens of thousands of dollars in jewelry for players, including watches (Tavares Gooden and Antrel Rolle), diamond-studded dog tags (Sean Taylor) and an engagement ring (Devin Hester). He also spent thousands of dollars on suits and clothing for Hester, Gooden and McGahee at Fashion Clothiers – purchases that were confirmed to Yahoo! Sports by the store’s owner, Shelly Bloom.

Visits to strip clubs and night clubs were the most consistent staple of Shapiro’s relationship with players, dating back to 2002 and running nearly up to his incarceration in April of 2010... Strip club visits included both coaches and players – something that was referenced in a portion of federal testimony by Chicago real estate investor Sherwin Jarol, who was deposed in Shapiro’s Ponzi case. At one point in his testimony, a recording of which was viewed by Yahoo! Sports, Jarol describes a pair of August 2008 visits to Solid Gold nightclub with Shapiro. He says "the coach of the Miami basketball" team (Frank Haith) attended one trip. Further in his testimony, he testifies that he "believe(s) there were a couple football players" and added "they all seemed to have a relationship with Nevin.

Again, there is much more detail on this in the report, but would that even be necessary? And that does not even start to get into his financial relationship with the athletic department and the university, to whom he made several considerable donations, and received special treatment as a result - such as leading the football team out of the tunnel into the Orange Bowl, nor the incompetence, if not dishonesty of Miami's administration and compliance office.

If the allegations detailed in the Yahoo Sports report are even close to the mark, this is the most severe case of rules violation that the NCAA will have dealt with since at least the series of investigations leading to SMU Football's death penalty in the 1980's. Given the severity of the case that Yahoo has presented in its expose, and presumably reflected in the details coming forth in the NCAA's parallel investigation, the Death Penalty for Miami Football would appear to be one of the sanctions that the NCAA can and should consider, if the current picture is supported by the fruits of these investigations. While the various ways that the COI could approach and conduct the investigation and a possible subsequent infractions hearing could fill a story of its own, the door to the Death Penalty as a sanction for repeat violators is open to the Hurricanes; as Stewart Mandel noted this morning in his column on the Miami fallout.

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.

One of the interesting subplots to the Miami situation involves the man who ran the Athletic Department during much of the time covered by the report, Paul Dee. Dee's post-U career included, ironically enough, serving on the NCAA's Committee on Infractions, including the panel that decided Southern Cal's case last year. While this looks like a Sudan in the UN Human Rights Commission-type act of hypocrisy (though at the time of the Bush/Mayo investigation, the Shapiro/Miami allegations were yet to surface), there is less reason to think there was much of an effect on that case, other than the concern that Dee may have known where the bodies tend to be buried in crooked athletic programs. There would not have been much of a reason for Dee to want to set a precedent for maxing out punishment in an infractions case, and under the standard that he laid out for a university's responsibility for compliance of elite athletes in that case, there is plenty that he should have been worried about.

Shapiro said he was enabled by the university, allowed to run the entire Miami team out of tunnel and onto the field – twice – and once honored on the field by former athletic director Paul Dee during a game.

Now Shapiro says Miami’s athletic compliance – Dee’s own backyard while Shapiro was operating – suffered one catastrophic oversight after another. ... "If they had hired a private investigator for a day, it would have been the easiest job that guy ever had," Shapiro said. "It would have been over in five minutes. You would have had all the information you needed.

As Mandel wrote this morning, the initial report on the emerging Miami scandal shares quite a bit with Southern Cal's Bush/Mayo violations, though to be fair to the Trojans, Miami has turned the dial up to 11 - if not to 21 - in their improper booster relations. This news regarding the Hurricanes is not a sign that Southern Cal was sucker punched, but that sadly they are not unique in the collegiate landscape. One of the early takeaways is that the NCAA has to live up to the actions that the COI has taken against schools like Southern Cal, and to the words spoken by NCAA President Emmert on enforcing compliance in athletics.

While there is a form of Mutually Assured Destruction among schools regarding NCAA investigations (Phil Fulmer excluded), anger against hypocrisy still plays a role in football, as it does throughout society. If Dee was trying to go after Southern Cal harder than they deserved, he would also have known that he was placing a target on the back of his own school that other programs and their supporters, whether it be Southern Cal, the U's rivals in Florida or any number of teams under the NCAA's eye might have take an shot at. As it happened, Yahoo Sports - led by the reporting of Charles Robinson and his associates - was the entity that hit the target first. The question that the NCAA will be looking to answer is whether they just grazed the edge, or hit the bullseye.

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