Here we are again, people. Just when we thought that the second consecutive bowl ban would, in a way, signal that maybe the NCAA's investigation was wrapping up, something ugly rears it's head. Barry Jackson over at the Miami Herald had the story this morning. Basically, the NCAA sent a letter to former players who have not spoken with them, giving them until Friday to speak with NCAA investigators, and telling them that if they were to refuse, all allegations would be believed as is. In layman's terms, the NCAA just pulled the "silence is consent" move. Here's the letter in question, as posted in Jackson's article:
The purpose of this letter is to apprise you that the NCAA enforcement staff is requesting to schedule an interview with your clients regarding their knowledge of or involvement in possible NCAA violations concerning the University of Miami, Florida, football program.
"Interviewing your clients is important in order for the enforcement staff to conduct a thorough investigation, and both the staff and the institution request you and your clients’ cooperation in this matter. However, at this time, all attempts to schedule and execute interviews with [blank] have been unsuccessful. As a result, this letter serves as a formal and final request by the NCAA enforcement staff for interviews with [blank] to be completed by Nov. 23, 2012.
“If we do not hear back from you or your clients by that time, the staff will consider the non-response as your client’s admission of involvement in NCAA violations. You may contact me at [blank] in order to arrange this interview. Your assistance in this matter is appreciated.”
Assistant Director of Enforcement
This letter, frankly, is manipulative, insulting, bordering on blackmail and extortion, and completely within the NCAA's ability. That's the thing that no one seems to really be able to grasp. No one has kept the NCAA in check, so they more or less have free reign to do what they please. Never mind that their own rules state that former college players are under no obligation to talk, because if the need arises, they will obligate them to talk in other ways. Never mind that there's a statute of limitations, because they have a loophole for that as well.
So does this mean complete and utter ruin for Miami? Well, it technically depends. John Infante, proprietor of the Bylaw Blog, had a good take on what exactly this letter means:
So what does the letter mean? It means that if the former Miami players (defendants/witnesses) refuse to testify, the enforcement staff (prosecutor) plans to bring the case to the Committee on Infractions (judge) with the evidence they have. What evidence they have is hard to tell. It could be the bare minimum, the testimony of Nevin Shaprio. My guess is the NCAA has a little more, like Shapiro’s financial and phone records. What the enforcement staff would want is for the players to confirm the other side of the transactions or conversations.
It would still be up to the Committee on Infractions to weigh the evidence and make a decision about credibility. That’s bad news for Miami. Ignore for a second whether the players’ silence should be evidence of anything. The COI faced virtually the same situation (albeit at a smaller scale) in the USC case. This was the evidence the COI felt was credible enough to connect Michael Michaels and Lloyd Lake to Reggie Bush and prove the violations in the USC case occurred:
The committee concluded that agency partner A was credible in the information he provided with regard to the efforts to establish a sports agency centered on student-athlete 1, and with regard to the benefits provided to
his family associated with those efforts. His account of what transpired was confirmed by members of his family, telephone records and compelling circumstantial evidence.
This is the standard the evidence has to meet in order to be the basis of finding Miami committed a major violation:
The Committee on Infractions shall base its findings on information presented to it that it determines to be credible, persuasive and of a kind on which reasonably prudent persons rely in the conduct of serious affairs.
(Rest of his story can be found HERE)
So there's a chance that this letter, and whatever the response is by the former players who received it, could not factor in the final decision of the NCAA. They have to review the evidence submitted just like a jury would, and make a decision based on what they think. The precedent, however, doesn't look good. There's every reason to think that if they have phone records and financial statements from Shapiro's side, and nothing either denying or corroborating those records from the university's side, that they will rule as if those records are fact. The one hope that Miami may have is that these former players simply didn't talk to the NCAA because they didn't want to be brought in to the middle of it. Say a group of these players have records showing that the majority of what Shapiro claimed is false. That would help the situation, although the degree to which it would is unknown. So is there a good chance that that is the case? Probably not.
If you're like me, and you find it hard to believe that any person would willingly take the word of a convicted felon with an axe to grind over that of a handful of kids who got some free drinks, steak dinners, and a few parties on a yacht, you aren't alone. Dennis Dodd, columnist for CBSSports.com, wrote that Bruce Feldman spoke with a compliance expert regarding this letter:
"I've never heard of anything like this before," said the source. "This seems like a total bullying tactic and sounds like a desperate move. They're basically saying they're taking the word of a billion-dollar ponzi schemer over some guys who may have taken a few steak dinners? It looks like the NCAA has spent a ton of money and time investigating this and they're trying to cover their investment."
(Rest of the article can be found HERE)
If this is actually the case, then everything we know about the NCAA is true. They don't care about enforcing rules the way they are supposed to. They don't care about due process. They care about scaring schools into following their arbitrary rules, and making sure that their image is in tact throughout the process. Unfortunately, this is the state of affairs that we as college fans find ourselves in. They can re-write the rulebook all they want to. They can set up new infractions matrices and provide graphs and tables and hell, even Venn diagrams if they want, but if they don't have to follow their own process, what does it all matter?
This letter and it's subsequent results are not entirely reasons to panic and expect the school to be handed the death penalty, although it certainly does not bode well for those who believed rosily that the two year bowl ban would leave us with nothing more than a few scholarship reductions and maybe a show cause here or there. At this point, all we can do is wait and see how the former players react to the ultimatum, and then wait for the NCAA to pick up its feet and move on this thing.