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NCAA Miami Investigation: Semantics, Burner Phones And Almost Zero Accountability

The NCAA released the findings of its investigation into the misconduct by its enforcement staff during its investigation of the Miami Hurricanes. Shockingly, NCAA President Mark Emmert will not be going down with the lavishly accommodated private jet. Below are a cursory summary of the report and a few nuggets we found interesting.

The Result: This investigation found no violations of laws or bylaws, but did find violations of “internal NCAA practice” that were not “consistent with the NCAA membership’s understanding about the limits of the enforcement staff’s investigative powers.” Multiple parties showed a lack of oversight.

Your Arch-Villain: Ameen Najjar was the NCAA’s Director of Enforcement. Nevin Shapiro’s attorney Maria Elena Perez presented a scheme to use the bankruptcy hearings to subpoena testimony for the NCAA. Najjar sought legal approval. He was told he could not hire Perez. He found a “way around” where he could not retain her but could pay for her work. He did not seek additional legal approval for his “way around” and suggested to those with oversight the legal counsel had approved it. He coordinated the depositions with Perez.

Heads Rolled: Ameen Najjar was fired last summer. Vice President of Enforcement Julie Roe Lach, who approved the action, has been fired. [Update: Roe Lach is the same NCAA official that got snippy with Gene Chizik in July 2011]

How This Emerged: Perez sent invoices for ancillary expenses that were paid out by the NCAA enforcement staff. Alarms were raised when Perez sent an invoice for around $57,000 in hourly charges, well exceeding the initial $15,000 budget. As John Infante points out, one could reasonably assume that had the invoices stayed under budget this never have come out.

Miami Knew: University of Miami attorneys knew about the plan to use Perez to subpoena testimony for the NCAA, but did not object to it on NCAA grounds. According to the report, Miami attorneys “did not want to appear uncooperative or look like they were standing in the way of truth.” A school under NCAA investigation did not stuck up for its rights because not showing complete submission might worsen its punishment. That, friends, is the sign of a healthy, legalistic process.

Burner Phones: Like your run of the mill corrupt coach, the NCAA uses burner phones during investigations. Former NCAA Associate Enforcement Director Rich Johanningmeier bought such a phone to communicate with Nevin Shapiro from prison and paid him $4,500 for his trouble.

To facilitate communications between the NCAA and Mr. Shapiro, Mr. Johanningmeier purchased a disposable mobile phone and paid for Mr. Shapiro’s use of the prison telephone system. Mr. Johanningmeier, in turn, expensed those costs to the NCAA. (Comley; Lach; Johanningmeier; Najjar; Shapiro). We learned that the NCAA had expended approximately $8,200 to fund communications with Mr. Shapiro, including transfers of approximately $4,500 to his prison commissary account from which he pays for communications expenses

Johanningmeier was the NCAA point man on its USC investigation. He retired in 2012.

Umm…What? The NCAA’s Corporate Operating Officer Jim Isch, No. 2 in command, approved the expenditure to Perez. The NCAA justified not punishing him by claiming “he did have a role in approving the Perez proposal, but he did not have responsibility for vetting its appropriateness.”

Here is the definition of “approve” from the New Oxford American Dictionary: “officially agree to or accept as satisfactory.” Here is the definition of “vet:” “to make a careful or critical examination of.” Apparently, Isch’s job was to approve things, but not think too hard or to be held responsible should they turn out problematic.

Logical Conclusion: NCAA actions have created a cloud, overshadowing every investigation, conclusion and punishment levied. They have made a mockery of terms such as “atmosphere of compliance” and “lack of institutional control” deployed with an ample umbrella. Coming mere months after the NCAA pledged to hold head coaches accountable for the actions of their assistants, the disavowal of responsibility by NCAA leadership is laughable.

NCAA Conclusion: A few bad apples. Everyone else acted commendably. Back to your normally scheduled programming. Move along.

[Photo via USA Today Sports]

 

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