Sports

It's About to Get Very Ugly for the Miami Hurricanes

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It’s bad. Really bad.

Worse than what happened at USC. Worse than what happened at UNC. Worse than what happened at Ohio State. Just really, really bad.

Nevin Shapiro points to players who abandoned him after they went pro as a part of the reason for his making public these allegations that he provided illicit benefits to dozens of current and former players beginning in 2001. Say what you will about his revenge for getting booted from the cool kids table, but his allegations are heavy and could deal a major blow to the program.

He’s certainly not the most credible person in the world. After all, he made millions of dollars by lying, cheating investors in a $930 million Ponzi Scheme. But over the course of an 11-month investigation by Yahoo! Sports, plenty of sources corroborated Shapiro’s claims. Yahoo! did the research. They talked to former players and recruits, and even a former coach. They put in nearly a year of work investigating the claims of a convicted felon with nothing to lose.

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Another Third Party Mess

The mess wrought by Shapiro is at its core another example of a third party taking advantage of 18- or 19-year-old kids for his own benefit. Shapiro wasn’t doing anybody any favors and wasn’t doing any of what he claims to have done out of this out of the goodness of his heart. Yeah, it would be nice to help a young kid get what he needs for himself or his family, but Shapiro obviously had ulterior motives. He wasn’t simply handing out cash to pay the bills; the benefits he provided go well beyond that.

He compares himself to Luther Campbell, who was given the nickname Uncle Luke for his relationship with the players in the 80s and early 90s, going so far as to call himself Lil Luke. Campbell took exception with Shapiro’s comparison. He calls him a “New Jersey-born Napoleon” in the most recent edition of ‘Luke’s Gospel’ from the Miami New Times, and shoots down any comparisons of what Shapiro alleges to have done for Miami football players with what he did himself.

You can’t be me just by reading a Dan Le Batard article in The Miami Herald from 21 years ago alleging I paid players for hits on the field. The NCAA investigated those accusations and found no wrongdoing on my part. This notion that I was paying players is false. It never happened.

If Nevin really wanted people to see him as “Little Luke,” then he would have dedicated part of his life to helping kids in Miami’s inner city neighborhoods get a college education. He certainly never started a youth athletic program that has been around for more than 30 years helping underprivileged parents in Liberty City mold their children.

It has never been about money for me. It’s always been about community service. That’s what being Uncle Luke is really about.

Campbell goes on to describe Shapiro as “nothing more than a jilted groupie who fucked over a lot of people.

While Shapiro deserves the bulk of the blame, any coach who participated in any impropriety is to blame as well. Coaches are entrusted to not only coach players on the field and develop their football skills, but to act as mentors to young men who, in many cases, are away from home for the first time. Campbell says former coach Randy Shannon “warned his assistants that if he caught them with Shapiro, he would fire them.” Clearly, there were those in the program who saw Shapiro for what he was.

Finally, the university and athletic department are to blame for what could be a lack of institutional control—that dreaded term. Robinson describes an incident in the final game at the Orange Bowl in 2007 (a game in which Miami ended up losing 48-0 to Virginia) when an intoxicated Shapiro picked a fight with an associate athletic director. The university later conducted a background check on Shapiro that showed he was part-owner of a sports agency. The Yahoo! piece includes a picture of Shapiro donating $50,000 to the basketball program in 2008.

Shapiro told Robinson that all the university had to do to find evidence of any impropriety was to look. “If they had hired a private investigator for a day, it would have been the easiest job that guy ever had,” Shapiro said. “It would have been over in five minutes. You would have had all the information you needed. Follow me to a nightclub or a strip club. Lunches. Dinners. The boat. Hotels for parties. All the outings at Lucky Strike. These guys were at my house. There was all kinds of (expletive) going on in. Gambling. Pool tournaments. Prostitution. Drinking.”

What’ll Happen?

Shapiro’s allegations that coaches were not only aware, but directly participated in breaking NCAA rules could be a killer. He points to former UM football coaches Clint Hurtt, Jeff Stoutland and Aubrey Hill, and former basketball coaches Frank Haith (head coach), Jake Morton and Jorge Fernandez. Allegations include claims that coaches sent recruits to his house or a luxury suite so that he could pitch them, and he even claims to having paid $10,000 to secure a basketball recruit.

Forget the other allegations for a minute. If coaches were aware of and participated in this impropriety, you’re looking at some serious hurt from the NCAA.

Miami was hit with a loss of 31 scholarships over three years, a one-year postseason ban and probation in 1995 for the infamous Pell Grant scandal. So what’s going to happen this time? You’re looking at scholarship reductions, a postseason ban, etc. and it’s probably a safe bet that the ‘Canes are going back on probation.  As for the severity of those penalties, I hate to speculate. And I hate to imagine. It’s going to be bad if these allegations check out over the course of the NCAA’s investigation.

We’ll hear the term ‘Death Penalty’ thrown around a lot over the next few days, weeks and maybe even months. The Death Penalty, of course, means that a program is unable to play football for at least a year. It has been doled out to a football program only once before, and it practically destroyed the SMU football program when it was handed the Death Penalty for the 1987 and 1988 season. SMU is only now getting back to being competitive.

Shapiro says he thinks Miami is going to get the Death Penalty. He’s wrong. We won’t see the Death Penalty handed out to a football program again. The NCAA, I believe, would never go so far as to destroy a program like it destroyed SMU’s. Even if it’s meant for repeat offenders, a category to which Miami now seems to belong if allegations are true.

What About Al Golden…

Man, what a tough break for the new coach. The coach says he found out about the investigation just recently.  “If they knew this was percolating, I believe they did have a responsibility to tell me,” Golden told the media a day after the Yahoo! story broke. “I believe they have a responsibility to tell [new athletic director] Shawn [Eichorst]. But look, I’m happy here. My wife is happy here. We have great kids on this team.”

You know how people warn you of starting a relationship by lying? Miami landed themselves one hell of a coach, and if they kept the possibility of an NCAA investigation from him while he was interviewing for the position, they started their relationship with the new coach by lying.

I don’t think Golden will look to bolt at the first opportunity, but he’s a Penn State alum who played linebacker for the Nittany Lions in the late 80s and early 90s and was the linebackers coach in Happy Valley in 2000. Golden has previously expressed his commitment to the Hurricanes when pressed about his interest in the Penn State job when if Joe Paterno retires, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens when if JoePa finally calls it a career. I can’t say I’d blame him if he did bolt.

…And the Current Team?

Part of the allegations include that some of the current players received improper benefits from Shapiro. Some of those named include big-name guys like quarterback Jacory Harris, receivers Travis Benjamin and Aldarius Johnson, tight end Dyron Dye, safeties Ray Ray Armstrong and Vaughn Telemaque, linebacker Sean Spence, defensive tackle Marcus Forston, and defensive end Olivier Vernon.

So far, no players have been suspended or declared ineligible. It’s not yet clear whether any of the current players named by Shapiro will be held out of action as a precaution—similar to what happened at UNC last year. The Tar Heels remained competitive despite the personnel losses, and Miami probably would stay competitive as well. However, if the players mentioned are not suited up, it would put a serious damper on any ACC title hopes the ‘Canes hold—if they’re even allowed to hold such hopes.

Golden told reporters before practice on Wednesday, “Until we hear of an infraction or that we did break a rule, everybody is practicing. If it is determined that somebody broke rules, then certainly that will be first dealt with from a university standpoint, from an eligibility standpoint.”

Love to Hate the ‘Canes

It’s back: the country’s love affair with hating the Hurricanes. Hating the ‘Canes never really went out of style, but at least the ‘Canes could point to a relatively clean police record of late compared to other schools, and a series of very good academic progress reports. Now, there isn’t much you can say if you’re a ‘Canes fan unless Shapiro’s allegations are eventually proven false.

I said it before and I’ll say it again, though. Think twice before you rip into the ‘Canes or any other program currently embroiled in an NCAA investigation. The way things have been going the past few years, your team could be next. As we’re finding out, these issues are not limited to one team or region, and it’s safe to say Miami isn’t going to be the last team to come under the scrutiny of the NCAA.