Miscellany

The NCAA is Facing a War for Survival, And Just Opened Another Front With Miami

Undeterred by the recent misconduct investigation, the NCAA delivered its Notice of Allegations to the University of Miami. This is just one more sign of the organization’s startling tone deafness under Mark Emmert.

Overstepping its investigative boundaries with Nevin Shapiro does not just taint a batch of evidence, as the NCAA contends. It calls into question the entire enforcement regime and the present leadership’s competence to oversee it. This is no blip. It is an explosion, and, for the NCAA, it comes at a terrible time.

Rampant corruption and colleges signing billion-dollar television contracts have exposed “amateurism” for the shallow tax dodge it has always been. Improving knowledge of the health risks associated with playing football has made the present system’s unfairness more acute. The NCAA was already facing a potentially existential lawsuit with the Ed O’Bannon case.

With its entire model under threat, the NCAA displayed its inability to enforce that model in a measured fashion. The organization’s enforcement arm proved to be unchecked zealots operating under an opaque cloud and lapping up the words of a biased man convicted of nine-figure fraud because it might offer them the opportunity to hammer some kids who accepted free dinners.

Somehow, no firm rules were violated when the NCAA commissioned legal proceedings as a “way around” the inconvenient fact it could not subpoena testimony. That alone is disturbing. So is the fact Miami representatives did not complain about it because they felt being “uncooperative” might worsen their fate.

NCAA authority rests on the perception of its authority. The fundamental hollowness of the organization’s mission and practices has been exposed. Proceeding with charges against Miami as if nothing happened is arrogant and, after the NCAA passed legislation holding coaches accountable for assistant misconduct, hypocritical. It is also foolish, as the power dynamic has changed.

Donna Shalala has the conch and she plans to use it. The University of Miami’s president banged the war drum in her public response to the notice of allegations, excoriating the NCAA’s investigation of the school on multiple fronts.

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.

The NCAA enforcement staff failed, even after repeated requests, to interview many essential witnesses of great integrity who could have provided first-hand testimony, including, unbelievably, Paul Dee, who has since passed away, but who served as Miami Athletic Director during many of the years that violations were alleged to have occurred. How could a supposedly thorough and fair investigation not even include the Director of Athletics?

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.

Shalala has public opinion on her side. She’s very well connected politically. Pressing forward with this case against Miami could see the NCAA maraud straight into a legal shit-storm. Its hard to see the member institutions sticking up for it. Nor would many government officials. Pennsylvania is wondering how the NCAA presumed the authority to fine a public institution $60 million without going through its own due process.

Mark Emmert inherited an NCAA in need of bold action. The bold action required was substantive reform, not wanton, baseless assertions of authority. There’s still time for the NCAA to come to a mutually acceptable compromise – perhaps both parties could accept time served on the postseason ban, token probation and scholarship reductions and an apology? – but that would only plug one of the hemorrhaging dikes.

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