U-nited we stand

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I thought I might be the first  in the Coliseum to write about the University of Miami athletics scandal, until the talented Alan Spoll made it the subject of his weekly Good Sports Bad Sports piece. Alan did a bang up job of giving readers a snapshot of what is going down at the U. But being a former ‘Cane, I would like to give it all just a bit more perspective.

Last Tuesday Yahoo Sports broke the story, which vaguely confirmed allegations made by Ponzi schemer and Miami sports booster Nevin Shapiro. Most of the allegations were that he wined and dined student athletes while coaches and administrators turned a blind eye. Since then, over righteous sports pundits have been devouring the University of Miami image because doing so is what people want to hear.

The only thing more disturbing  than listening to the anti-Miami rhetoric on TV (even Fox News), was listening to a radio interview with Shapiro’s lawyer, in which she defended her slithery client’s behaviour. She said Shapiro felt betrayed that players, which he considered “family,” did not come to his aid when he was arrested or convicted for his felony. Obviously, when you reach out to college kids, they’re obligated to break you out of prison. This woman is more deplorable than her client.

At least I don’t have to hear moron announcers talk about what a great job Donna Shalala is doing in running a clean football program. They confused Miami’s academic success with discipline. This January, four Miami teams, including football, won public recognition for high scores in the Academic Progress Rate. Miami was one of only just a handful of schools in the entire country to improve it’s APR for seven consecutive years in baseball, football, and basketball. But while Shalala took pride in A’s, like others take pride in W’s, the basic theme of compromising your integrity to get something else was in effect. She looked the other way as long as the grades — and the donations — were there.

The reality of it — and you would only know this if you follow both the school and its athletics — is that Miami is not all that renegade. Miami was the first successful college football team to do end-zone dances, talk trash on the field, and wear fatigues and gold teeth. So from its early success in the 1980’s, people judged Miami’s book by its cover. In 1995 the book matched the cover when the Hurricane football program was put on probation for Pell Grant fraud, improper payments, and a failed drug policy. But the substantiated infractions were nothing as criminal as the rumors might have suggested. Since then, Miami has been basically squeaky clean, yet unable to shake its reputation. It’s because sports is just like any other social mass consciousness — the first impression is usually the last impression.

Because of this impression, Miami is singled out. I see FSU and UF fans on the blogs delighting in these allegations, when they have, what I would consider, a slightly more dubious record. According the Orlando Sun Sentinel, during Urban Myer’s 4 years as head coach, from 2005-2009, the University of Florida football program had 21 arrests and 9 felonies. During the same time Georgia had 30 arrests, Tennessee 21, Florida Sate 13, and Miami…2! Even my UConn buddies have the nerve to thumb their nose at Miami, failing to realize that UConn just got 3 years of probation for basically the same thing (rogue booster), just on a smaller scale (a basketball team has 12 players, as opposed to a football team which has nearly 100).

The NCAA President himself said that “the death penalty” (a periodic ban from football) would be on the table. Many in the media are calling for it. There is only one precedent for the death penalty, and that is when the NCAA banned SMU for competing in football for one year in the 1980’s. The ban was so crippling, that SMU has had only one winning season in the 20 years since. SMU officials knowingly and willingly paid their players up to $61,000 in one year, while on a 3 year probation, in which they promised the NCAA to clean up their program. Miami has not been on probation in years, and is not accused of such blatant institutional disregard for conduct. But do not be surprised if Miami still gets the death penalty.

The NCAA already has its snitches in line. The NCAA is a governing sports body with no obligation to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that UM is guilty. In the last 18 months, the NCAA has investigated or sanctioned USC, Ohio State, Oregon, Auburn, Michigan, and North Carolina. Yet the dysfunction continues. Now they see Miami as one last chance to prove they are in charge. But I think the NCAA would be foolish to give Miami the death penalty, given how fragile the conference based structure of college sports is right now. If they do it, the ACC might lose Florida State and Clemson to the SEC. And that would set off a chain reaction of realignment that could lead to a super-conference structure that secedes from the NCAA.

The bottom line is that Miami, though far from innocent, is no different than the other major programs around the country. However, Miami has 2 distinct disadvantages. The first is that it is Miami. Bobby Bowden said, in Tallahassee, all you have to do is check one or 2 bars and you know where your football team is. In a city like Miami that is impossible. The second is Nevin Shapiro.  This rogue booster, unlike the anonymous rogue boosters at other schools, got caught for something much bigger than college football, and has a chip on his shoulder the size of Dade County.

Now, as the NCAA investigation of the University of Miami football and basketball programs marches on, the U has to pull itself together. The scandal is still in the allegation stage. The first thing the university should do is fire Donna Shalala. After that put together a comprehensive committee and project plan, which first outlines a defense for the university, and then outlines a post-probation or death penalty program recovery plan, using SMU, the 1995 probation, and other cases as benchmarks.

During this investigation the U family needs to wear the U proud. Go to the games. Show the rest of the haters that it is still all about the U. And if there happens to be a Hurricane fan or two in the same cell block as Shapiro? Well, let’s just say, no one in Miami would be all to upset if you accidently bumped into him in the mess hall, with a sharpened spork in your hand.

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4 Responses to “U-nited we stand”

  1. Right on, Brother! The NCAA sets up a system that is designed to trap athletes, and then feigns surprise when the kids screw up and fall into said trap. I hate those hypocritical bastards. I actually met one of the officials who worked on UM in 1995 and I have to say I was not impressed. I especially love that the NCAA just admitted that although they don’t prosecute for infractions over 4 years old, they are potentially going to IGNORE THEIR OWN BYLAWS and punish Miami harder than they are allowed to. I wish someone had the money and balls to shut these punks down, for the good of all college sports, not just the U.

  2. The NCAA doesn’t seem to mind when college presidents, athletic directors, coaches, conference directors and other administrators take gifts from the Bowls. But if a kid sells a championship ring that he himself owns — suspension. The system is comically jacked up.

  3. I’m a UM alumni and only marginally interested in the football program. What bothers me is how these behaviors reflect upon me and devalue my education. The average employer on the street probably hears more about the Miami football program than the engineering program. The “Suntan U” image is hard enough to shake, but now he’s thinking that corruption, bribery and prostitution are rampant.

  4. Bruce, use these allegations as a conversation piece (I doubt the public thinks all students use prostitutes since a few might have). Then, remind those employers under Shalala’s reign we have surpassed UF as the number university in the state according to US News. As a Canes alum, I will support The U through thick and thin, Let’s just hope Coach Golden doesn’t run off to Penn State next year so we can continue our climb back to dominance on the field.

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