Miami booster Nevin Shapiro, the architect of a $930 million Ponzi scheme, dispensed millions of dollars in improper benefits to 72 student athletes between 2002 and 2010, according to exhaustive reporting from Yahoo! Sports. The revelations surpass other scandals seen this summer in scale, in degree and (crucially for Miami’s future) in established fact. These are not nebulous, secondhand allegations. They are firsthand confessions supported by documented evidence and corroborating sources. There is no way to massage this. Miami is screwed.
Shapiro was a renaissance violator. Besides being a callous criminal, he was a booster gone wild, showering players with cash, gifts, experiences and sexual opportunities. He committed recruiting violations, both by acting as a third-party recruiter and by outlaying cash to buy a basketball player’s commitment. He worked in concert with ten coaches in two sports. He also owned a sports agency that signed Miami players and paid to secure their commitments while still in school. He was an academic fraud away from hitting the cycle.
He was blatant, flamboyant and attention seeking, earning a reputation for his decadence, in Miami. He was a major program booster. His name was on part of a building. He got into freaking fisticuffs with the university’s compliance director in the press box. Shapiro was a known commodity and the school did nothing about him. If Miami did not know, they clearly should have known.
Reasonable diligence from any program would have uncovered this. A well-intentioned Miami should have been super-diligent. This is the U! This was a program already bitten for Uncle Luke, the Pell Grant Scandal and a multitude of arrests in the 1980s and 1990s. This administration purportedly addressed their problems with renewed vigor following the 7th Floor Crew, the Orange Bowl brawl and the Bryan Pata shooting in the middle of the last decade. Their athletic director served on and was later head of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions.
Miami should have had the country’s most conscientious compliance staff. Instead, it had either a corrupt, an incompetent or a blind one. The only reasonable conclusion is that Miami willfully ignored unethical activity on a grand scale and placed its student-athletes at risk to promote success on the football field, again.
The string of violations is incredible. It falls both within the present statute of limitations and the window to be charged by the NCAA as a repeat violator. This is the worst scandal *in football* since SMU received the death penalty. It’s worse than the scandal that saw SMU receive the death penalty. Miami will argue for the continued existence of its program, and probably not be very compelling. Even if the NCAA decides against “SMU-ing” Miami,” sanctions should be so scathing it will be a de facto death. Expect Al Golden to be back in play for the Penn State job.
If the NCAA wants to send a message, Miami is the ideal target. It’s a big name, but not a big program. It has pedigree and a public presence, but does not have the wealth and entrenched alumni base. The NCAA could nuke Miami, with minimal disruption of college football’s space-time continuum. The message would be sent, but it’s long past its usefulness.
Amateurism is a charade the NCAA’s member schools use to avoid paying taxes. College sports have never been clean. My uncle played hockey for Boston University in the early 1970s. He once told me a story where the school was recruiting a Canadian goalkeeper. He was given a rental car and a wad of cash and told to show the kid a good time. He did. The kid said he was all set to go to BU and left. The kid ended up playing for another Boston-area school (known for its academics). My uncle saw him years later at a banquet and asked him what happened. His response was, “Your school rented a car. (Other School) gave me a car.” This was college hockey, 40 years ago. The NCAA’s amateur ethos is only veritably applied in licensed video games.
Shapiro’s actions at Miami were outrageous, but likely not abnormal. He was one booster at one school. This was an outlandish, Miami-tinged version of what is standard practice at a number of schools. The disturbing facet is this level of decay wasn’t giving them a competitive advantage in recruiting. The school was generally struggling to bring in top 15 classes in the latter part of the decade. They were losing backyard kids like Patrick Peterson. What was going on at other programs? Miami is almost undoubtedly not an outlier.
The NCAA breeds the corruption it struggles to restrain. Schools recruit kids from underprivileged backgrounds, surround them with privilege and, while administrators are latched to the teat themselves, prohibit them alone from partaking. The Miami case presents serious moral issues, the bounties for injuring opponents and the prostitution, but many of these violations and those from other scandals are problems, solely because the NCAA says so. Going out for a free dinner, spending an afternoon on someone’s yacht, playing a free round of golf and taking an expenses paid trip are activities coaches, administrators and other members of society enjoy regularly. Shapiro’s antics with Miami are only marginally worse than those of Fiesta Bowl representatives.
It’s long past time for the NCAA to institute a rational regime, focused on protecting and serving student athletes’ best interests. The purported adults around them have, demonstrably, abdicated their responsibility.
[Photo via Getty]