The University of Miami hopes it has its (Oregon) Ducks in a row.
And that’s reasonable, because there’s nothing wrong with thinking positively while awaiting punishment.
But the Hurricanes’ potential problem as the NCAA prepares its ruling regarding the Nevin Shapiro scandal that engulfed the football program for the better part of a decade — illegal benefits to players allegedly provided by Shapiro from 2002 to 2010 — is that UM’s case is considerably different than the one at Oregon, which involved former Ducks coach Chip Kelly giving money to a street agent to influence recruits to come play for him.
Oregon recently escaped harsh penalty (three years on probation, a negligible loss of scholarships and wrist slaps for Kelly, now the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, and an assistant).
Miami’s alleged violations were more egregious than Oregon’s in that the NCAA enforcement staff says Shapiro, who’s in prison for his role in a Ponzi scheme totaling almost $1 billion, provided gifts to dozens of players and recruits in the form of cash and/or entertainment.
The Hurricanes are charged with more than one major infraction, in other words, but hope whatever penalties are forthcoming will be assessed against individuals no longer with the program. And they do have some things working in their favor:
• The NCAA made a mess of the investigation itself with admissions of illegal means of gathering information.
• The university, in the NCAA’s own words, was cooperative to the extreme “throughout the entirety of the investigative stage.”
• UM has self-imposed a post-season ban (two bowl games and one ACC title game), which has resulted in the loss of revenue and practice time, and has said it has cut scholarships and instituted recruiting restrictions.
Is that enough to convince the Committee on Infractions that leniency is in order? Is UM President Donna Shalala correct when she insists the Hurricanes have suffered enough and doesn’t deserve severe punishment?
The prevailing mood at The U seems to be that something along the lines of what was levied against Oregon would be proper for the Hurricanes, too. But that would suggest a belief that one case is similar to the other, and that’s simply not true.
The best thing Miami has going for itself is its act of contrition, which has seemed genuine. And coach Al Golden, who was in no way involved in the scandal, has been a pillar of integrity in his leadership.
Those elements should count for something in the Hurricanes’ behalf, but it remains a possibility that the NCAA might want to make an example out of UM because of the sordid nature of Shapiro’s involvement. It’s important to remember that the university drew the poisonous charge of a lack of institutional control when it received its Notice of Allegations in mid-February.
UM has spent too long in purgatory, and the NCAA seldom has looked worse — talk about a lack of institutional control — than the ‘Canes during this investigation.
“Many of the charges brought forth are based on the word of a con man who made a fortune by lying,” Shalala wrote at one stage of the proceedings. “The NCAA enforcement staff acknowledged … 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.”
OK, but the Hurricanes should be careful about describing themselves too much the victims. Better that they throw themselves on the mercy of the NCAA court, however corrupt that court might be. That’s because the NCAA, because of its own improper handling of the matter, will look sanctimonious if it hammers Miami.
Whatever shenanigans the NCAA pulled during its investigation doesn’t erase the fact that Miami should have known a “con man” with special access to its program long before they saw a convicted one.
It’s why it would be a monumental mistake for the Hurricanes to assume what the NCAA did to Oregon is in any manner an indication of what it will do to them.