Miami entanglement speeds NCAA's freefall
This just in: The NCAA is roughly as beloved in America as al-Qaida.
This Space has generally refrained from piling on, but it keeps getting harder. In the wake of this latest nonsense at the University of Miami, it's all but impossible.
To summarize: Nevin Shapiro is a formerly wealthy and forever oily Miami booster whose boosting largely has consisted of throwing money at the school and its athletes.
It is axiomatic that if you throw money at a school (which is probably already rich), they name buildings for you. If you throw it at the school's athletes (who are probably poor) and get caught, they (the same "they," as in the previous sentence) hold a press conference, at which they stare very soberly into TV cameras, bemoan your poisonous influence and vow dramatic action to put this regrettable episode behind them and stride boldly into the future.
The distinction here, the one between school and athlete, or rich and poor, is drawn by the NCAA, created nearly a century ago by Teddy Roosevelt in order to clean up college football (how's that workin' out?) and having since branched into some, ahem, other areas while hanging on for dear life to an exemption from paying taxes on the money it makes from, for example, its multi-billion-dollar basketball tournament.
The NCAA has spent two years investigating Shapiro. In December 2011 Sean Allen, who worked in the Miami athletic equipment department and apparently helped Shapiro streamline the money-throwing process, was being deposed for Shapiro's bankruptcy litigation.
When Allen arrived at his deposition, he told CBS Sports, NCAA investigator Ameen Najjar was in the room. Allen recognized Najjar from the Miami/Shapiro investigation. Allen asked Najjar to leave the room, but even after he did Allen reportedly was barraged with questions relating to the NCAA investigation. And unlike when normally being interviewed by the NCAA, he was under oath.
And it turns out that the NCAA reportedly hired attorney Maria Elena Perez to interview witnesses and collect information in the Miami mess. And Perez is the personal bankruptcy attorney of -- wait for it -- Nevin Shapiro.
Imagine if, say, Jerry Sandusky's lawyer was working for Louis Freeh, and you kind of see where we're going here.
The NCAA announced Wednesday it "uncovered an issue of improper conduct within its enforcement program that occurred during the University of Miami investigation." That investigation is on hold while the NCAA waits out an "external review of the enforcement program."
This on top on the NCAA sanctions on Penn State, based entirely on an investigation the NCAA did not conduct or spend much time analyzing, resulting in (say it along with me) punishing harshly people who had nothing to do with the Jerry Sandusky scandal and punishing not at all the people who had everything to do with it. And on top of the NCAA investigating academic fraud in the University of North Carolina athletic department, and finding nothing, after UNC admitted the fraud.
And all this has happened since Mark Emmert became NCAA president in 2010 with what he considered a get-tough mandate that justified positioning himself as a kind of college sports version of pro sports commissioners like Roger Goodell and David Stern.
The NCAA has long acknowledged it did not have resources to do the kind of investigations/enforcement compelled by its famously baroque rulebook. And now, when it wants to play tough cop, it's becoming clear that it's also hopelessly lacking in competence and ethics.
The NCAA is now taken as seriously as Lindsay Lohan by fans, media and even, increasingly, by member schools. To limp along as it has may no longer be possible. There are lawsuits, such as that of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett regarding the Penn State sanctions and that of Ed O'Bannon, the former UCLA basketball star, challenging the constitutionality of the standard athlete-university scholarship contract.
If they can't afford a proper enforcement team, well, you can imagine what endless lawyering costs.
The grade-A solution, it says here, would be for the NCAA to decrease its own authority and simplify its own job. Set the rules for sports. Run the championships. That's about it. Let the universities/conferences take care of the rest.
(For what it's worth, Penn State hired an "athletics integrity officer,'' last week.)
No, this won't "clean up," college sports. It surely won't flush the Nevin Shapiros out of the system. It won't level the playing field. There will always be an Alabama, and there will always be a Rice.
It may eventually mean Johnny Football can profit from the sale of his name, which is exactly how it should be.
Other than that, it won't even end the supposed hypocrisy so many of my colleagues foam at the mouth over. College sport is what it is entirely because people love it, and because they really, really, really really want State U. to win. Blow it up today -- all of it, including the NCAA -- and within a decade or so it would all be back again in essentially the same form.
There are many worse things.
What's changed is we're now beyond people questioning the NCAA's purpose. We're now at the point where, even for that purpose, it has rendered itself close to, and freefalling toward, useless.
And we leave you with the following, via Twitter, from ESPN's Jay Bilas: "NCAA receptionist to Emmert: 'Penn State on the line. They'd like to talk to you about the 'culture' of the NCAA. USC is on line 2.' "
Email sports columnist Mike Gross at firstname.lastname@example.org.