The NCAA And Miami Prepare For Battle

The NCAA has always gotten what it wanted. Because it made up the rules, and is the sole enforcer of them, the NCAA has never not been able to push around anyone in its way, be it players, programs or politicians. This time could have been different. After the investigation was screwed up so spectacularly, so publicly, and so obviously, and it became clear the NCAA was no better than the shady programs it claims to police (even making use of the same petty crook, Nevin Shapiro, that got Miami in trouble), Mark Emmert could have let it go, and slunk off to lick his wounds and do battle another day.

Not going to happen. Finally, after two years of investigation and enough detours to fill a 52-page report on the investigation's fuck-ups, the NCAA gave Miami its official notice of allegations. Included is the dreaded "lack of institutional control" charge, the most serious that can be leveled and almost always a precursor to major penalties. Miami's self-imposed sanctions—bowl bans, scholarships forfeited, players declared ineligible—are apparently not enough. A bloodied NCAA still wants a fight, and Miami is going to give it to them.

(Fascinatingly, this notice comes just days after the completion of the NCAA-sponsored investigation into its own misdemeanors. President Mark Emmert said that any information gathered improperly would be thrown out. So the NCAA threw it out, then turned around and still charged Miami with the worst thing it could.)

Immediately after receiving the allegations, university president Donna Shalala fired back with a pointed and bellicose public statement. It reads, in part:

Over the two and a half years since the University of Miami first contacted the NCAA enforcement staff about allegations of rules violations, the NCAA interviewed dozens of witnesses, including current and former Miami employees and student-athletes, and received thousands of requested documents and emails from the University. Yet despite our efforts to aid the investigation, the NCAA acknowledged on February 18, 2013 that it violated its own policies and procedures in an attempt to validate the allegations made by a convicted felon. Many of the allegations included in the Notice of Allegations remain unsubstantiated.

Now that the Notice of Allegations has been issued, let me provide some context to the investigation itself:

• Many of the charges brought forth are based on the word of a man who made a fortune by lying. The NCAA enforcement staff acknowledged to the University that if Nevin Shapiro, a convicted con man, said something more than once, it considered the allegation "corroborated" - an argument which is both ludicrous and counter to legal practice.

• Most of the sensationalized media accounts of Shapiro's claims are found nowhere in the Notice of Allegations. Despite their efforts over two and a half years, the NCAA enforcement staff could not find evidence of prostitution, expensive cars for players, expensive dinners paid for by boosters, player bounty payments, rampant alcohol and drug use, or the alleged hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and gifts given to student-athletes, as reported in the media. The fabricated story played well - the facts did not.

[...]

• Finally, we believe the NCAA was responsible for damaging leaks of unsubstantiated allegations over the course of the investigation. Let me be clear again: for any rule violation - substantiated and proven with facts - that the University, its employees, or student-athletes committed, we have been and should be held accountable. We have worked hard to improve our compliance oversight, and we have already self-imposed harsh sanctions. We deeply regret any violations, but we have suffered enough.

This does not sound like a woman or a university willing to accede to punishment, and it's hard to see how they should, given that the NCAA forfeited the moral high ground long ago. Disposable cell phones. Money wired to a convicted con man's prison commissary account. A lawyer illegally and secretly on the payroll. These sound like the tactics of a rogue program, but they're all tricks the NCAA pulled out to nail Miami.

You want to talk about a lack of institutional control? Over the past year, the NCAA lost its VP of enforcement, a director of enforcement, and one of its most veteran investigators, all fired or resigned after their involvements in the Miami case came to light. Meanwhile, in October, the NCAA passed new legislation essentially codifying that ignorance is not a defense against infractions, and higher-ups are guilty until presumed innocent.

"A head coach is presumed responsible for major/Level I and Level II violations (e.g. academic fraud, recruiting inducements) occurring within his or her program unless the coach can show that he or she promoted an atmosphere of compliance and monitored his or her staff."

Yet Mark Emmert shuttles along on his quest, his defense being that he isn't responsible for the executives and underlings that repeatedly and flagrantly went outside the rules. The hypocrisy is almost too blatant to be offensive, until you remember that poor teenagers are paying the price for it.

It's fitting that everything, from Miami's downfall to the NCAA's immolation, hinges on Nevin Shapiro. He's the kind of sad-sack hanger-on that wouldn't exist without bogus rules banning players from benefiting from their work. He's a groupie, semi-legally providing hospitality to his favorite program because no one else is allowed to. And now he's the NCAA's main witness, and they've shown willing to play exactly as dirty if that's what it takes. The NCAA is a grand feudal experiment, the unpaid labor tied to their manors, and it's not working. Instead of lifting the serfs up to some lofty ideal of amateurism, the lords just got right down in the muck with them.