The NCAA, Miami, And The Broken System

Joe Robbins

The NCAA released the findings of its internal investigation yesterday. To no one's surprise, they blamed it all on a few rogue investigators, rather than taking full on blame for a complete breakdown in procedure and accountability. So what does this mean for Miami?

After a weekend full of a "honey do" list and other various house related things that needed tending to, I'm finally able to sit down, take stock of all that happened over the past couple of days, and set my thoughts to the virtual paper.

What the NCAA said yesterday is not nearly as bad as the revelation that they completely mucked up the Miami investigation, but it's damn close. Throughout this whole process, Miami has maintained that Nevin Shapiro was a rogue booster, and he took advantage of players that didn't know any better. During the Randy Shannon era, the players involved went directly against the wishes of the coach in order to get the benefits of whatever Shapiro wanted to provide, which only furthers their stance. The NCAA, however, has ignored that idea, instead spending over two years to try and label Miami as a flawed institution that lacked control for a large portion of time. Of course, when the NCAA screws up that investigation for around 6 months, they blame it on a few rogue investigators rather than admitting that there is a lack of accountability that extends all the way to the top.

The NCAA does not exist, at least not anymore, to promote amateurism and to keep the college athletic world in check. At this point, their sole purpose in their over-reaching antics is to justify their own existence, and to try and prove to the public that they should still have jobs. They, and especially their investigative branch, are motivated by one thing and one thing only: to make sure that their side wins, regardless of what they have to do to make sure it happens.

It's funny, that. The notion that the NCAA will bend and break rules to give their own organization an advantage while they try to punish organizations from bending and breaking rules in order to maintain a competitive edge. It's become too huge an issue to be fixed by simple system-wide reform, as Mart Emmert promised. Hell, even firing or forcing Emmert to resign would not fix the issue, as actual lawyer Robert Wheel points out:

If the NCAA were enforcing rules that didn't require a lot of investigation, then this lack of power would not be a problem. But as long as college sports remain a big time moneymaker with rich guys who want to circumvent the rulebook to see their teams win, said rich guys will find ways to try to outfox the rules. Unless we want to give the NCAA subpoena power (we really don't) then this will always be a losing battle. The NCAA will never have the ability or the resources to catch up to people breaking its rules.

And we've already seen how this need to cut corners breeds NCAA misconduct. Sure you could just look at what it'sdone in the past 12 months. It decided to punish a player for violations no matter what it found in its investigation. A judge called it malicious when ruling on a defamation suit from a former USC assistant. It gave Penn State the harshest penalties since SMU 25 years ago, even though nobody really knows which NCAA rules the Nittany Lions broke. Again, that's only in the past year.

It's tempting to blame the NCAA's current problems on president Mark Emmert, but they long predate him. Investigators have always been a problem with the NCAA. Take a look at this excerpt from the Congressional Record in 1978 that Sports by Brooks uncovered. Congress found out that a recruit bought off then-NCAA investigator Jim Delany (yes, THAT Jim Delany) by giving him a date with one of his friends. Delany then told the Ole Miss football coach that he wouldn't report his findings because the recruit had dirt on him.

So, aside from the NCAA's problems, where does Miami stand in all of this? Emmert said yesterday that due to their bungling, the entirety of Sean Allen's testimony and information, along with about 25 other interviews that the NCAA had conducted, would be thrown out and not used in the Miami investigation. He also said that they still had about 75 other interviews that were not tainted that they would be using, and the investigation would be moving forward. Now, at this point, the investigation aspect of it was basically over anyway, and the school was waiting on the Notice Of Allegations. The NOA should be coming soon, and it will likely read like a gigantic mess that is not at all good for Miami, but there's plenty of reasons for Canes fans to relax.

The first is that the Allen testimony that will not be used was the most damning collection of Information that the NCAA had against Miami. Without Allen, the NCAA is basing their investigation off of mainly Shapiro's word and the interviews they conducted with a handful of others. Allen was the main key in corroborating much of what Shapiro alleged, and without him, the case takes a major hit. It doesn't help the NCAA that both current and former members of the Committee On Infractions, who will ultimately decide Miami's fate, have spoken out against taking the word of a convicted felon as the truth. The NCAA will try and hammer Miami as best as they can, in order to try and justify their 2 year process, but Miami will be waiting.

The case will still go in front of the COI, Emmert confirmed that yesterday, and that is a good thing for Miami. Not only if the NCAA's case crippled at this point, but Miami has a very good chance to argue that the entire case is tainted. They have been sidesaddle the whole time, and were aware that the NCAA was breaking its own rules, but did nothing in order to maintain their air of cooperation. Now that the NCAA themselves have made their mistakes public, Miami can, and will, claim that the NCAA screwed up more than they are admitting to, and the school should be let go with time served.

The last, and perhaps most comforting reason that Canes fans can relax a bit, is that the COI is made up of both NCAA members and independent public figures. The committee will look at the NCAA's case, will hear Miami's side of things, and will make their ruling based on what they believe is truth, and what is fiction. The fact Miami has been exemplary in their cooperation throughout the process, have self-imposed not only two years of bowl bans, but scholarships, even going so far as to self-limit the number of recruiting visits the coaches can take, will weigh very heavily in the considerations of the COI. Add to that their apparent hesitation in taking the word of a felon without corroboration, and Miami is sitting in a very favorable spot, regardless of how harsh the NOA is once it is received. Don't forget that during this whole process, Shalala and her lawyers will be holding a lawsuit in their back pocket, ready to be used if needed. Miami's president is not at all pleased with how things have come to pass as of late, and her scathing statement released yesterday proves that:

"The University takes full responsibility for the conduct of its employees and student-athletes. Where the evidence of NCAA violations has been substantiated, we have self-imposed appropriate sanctions, including unilaterally eliminating once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for our students and coaches over the past two years, and disciplining and withholding players from competition.

We believe strongly in the principles and values of fairness and due process. However, we have been wronged in this investigation, and we believe that this process must come to a swift resolution, which includes no additional punitive measures beyond those already self-imposed.

In September 2010—two and a half years ago—the University of Miami advised the NCAA of allegations made by a convicted felon against former players and, at that time, we pledged our full cooperation with any investigation into the matter. One year later, in August 2011, when the NCAA’s investigation into alleged rules violations was made public, I pledged we would ‘vigorously pursue the truth, wherever that path may lead’ and insisted upon ‘complete, honest, and transparent cooperation with the NCAA from our staff and students.’

The University of Miami has lived up to those promises, but sadly the NCAA has not lived up to their own core principles. The lengthy and already flawed investigation has demonstrated a disappointing pattern of unprofessional and unethical behavior. By the NCAA leadership’s own admission, the University of Miami has suffered from inappropriate practices by NCAA staff. There have also been damaging leaks to the media of unproven charges. Regardless of where blame lies internally with the NCAA, even one individual, one act, one instance of malfeasance both taints the entire process and breaches the public’s trust.

There must be a strong sense of urgency to bring this to closure. Our dedicated staff and coaches, our outstanding student-athletes, and our supporters deserve nothing less." – Donna E. Shalala, University of Miami President

So while this isn't over yet, and likely won't be for a few months, it certainly is not cause for panic. It's become tedious and frustrating to see this thing drag out as long as it has, but if it is going to come to and end, it will take time. Just sit back, take a few deep breaths, and let Shalala do work.

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