The NCAA Committee on Infractions is about to enter the room. All rise.
Oh, sorry, President Shalala. We didn’t realize you were already standing.
The point is, after more than two years of charges and counter-charges in the NCAA’s investigation of over-the-top booster gifts for Miami athletes, the Nevin Shapiro case has finally arrived at the formal hearing stage.
There aren’t many details to report since there’s no telling how much evidence has been disallowed due to mistakes by NCAA investigators and how much of the rest was actually verified, but here’s what we do know.
Thursday in Indianapolis, a Hurricanes contingent headed by UM President Donna Shalala, football coach Al Golden and basketball coach Jim Larranaga is scheduled to represent the school before a committee headed by Britton Bankowsky. He’s the commissioner of Conference USA, and Temple law professor Eleanor Myers, who previously denied Miami’s request for an outright dismissal of the case, will be at his side.
They’re setting aside three days for questioning in this one, continuing right on through Saturday if there’s still anything left to be said. After that it will be eight weeks or more before final sanctions are announced, with a general target date of late August, just before the start of another football season.
Will three days actually be needed for Miami to make all of its points and to strike at all of the NCAA enforcement division’s slip-ups, too? It’s a strong possibility, knowing that the infractions committee burned through 30 hours of questions and answers on the USC-Reggie Bush hearing in the summer of 2010.
The Trojans eventually got hit with a two-year bowl ban, a reduction of 30 football scholarships over three years and the vacation of 13 wins, one of them being a 55-19 rout of Oklahoma in the national championship game of 2004.
At least Miami won’t be losing any national titles over all of this. What’s more, there are two major reasons to hold out hope for something well short of the program’s annihilation, even with the dreaded words “lack of institutional control” written into the NCAA’s notice of allegations.
First, Shapiro is a convicted Ponzi schemer doing 20 years in the federal pen. That makes him a confidence man by nature, and makes it difficult to have total confidence in anything the NCAA’s key witness says.
Second, the NCAA has its own credibility problems. In February NCAA President Mark Emmert summed up an internal review of his own investigative staff by admitting “a very serious issue of improper conduct” in the gathering of facts on Miami. The NCAA’s enforcement chief got fired in the flap and Shalala took the opportunity to slam the association for being unable to follow its own rules.
I’m inclined therefore to think that the worst may already be over, and that the worst was in the waiting.
Because the Hurricanes volunteered to pass on bowl trips the last two seasons, they really can argue for time served in advance of final judgment.
Another bowl ban in 2013 is about the most that Shalala could accept without really getting her dander up and prodding the former Secretary of Health and Human Services to call on her buddies in Washington. The infractions committee is a big deal, but dragging the NCAA before a congressional committee to explain its mysterious procedures would be bigger.
As for scholarship restrictions, Golden has already self-imposed limits on the number of offers he made to Miami recruits this spring. Running light on the roster makes the job tougher, but the coach already would have bolted if he weren’t pretty tough, too.
So let the Committee on Infractions have its day and, for the love of Chad Johnson, no grandstanding in their pretend courtroom. Remember, the inevitable appeals process belongs to the NCAA, too.