CORAL GABLES, Fla. – The NCAA informed University of Miami administrators it will consider invoking its “willful violators” clause and make an exception to the traditional four-year statute of limitations in the Nevin Shapiro case, a university source told Yahoo! Sports.
Traditionally, the NCAA’s bylaws would only allow it to sanction the Hurricanes for infractions that occurred during the four years prior to receiving a letter of inquiry from investigators. For example, if Miami received a letter of inquiry for a case on Sept. 1, 2011, the NCAA could only sanction the school for applicable violations dating back to Sept. 1, 2007. But the clause – reserved for “a pattern of willful violations” – can spin a probe back to the earliest applicable infractions.
(Special to Yahoo! Sports)
Applied to the Shapiro allegations, it means the NCAA could reach as far back to early 2002, when the booster said he began funneling benefits to Hurricanes players. And if the probe stretched back to 2002, it would overlap with Miami’s two-year probationary period from the baseball program, which was leveled from February 2003 to February 2005. That could potentially tag the Hurricanes athletic program with a “repeat violator” label and make the school further susceptible to the NCAA’s so-called death penalty.
[Y! Sports probe: Who is Nevin Shapiro?]
NCAA president Mark Emmert said that despite the penalty being used only once before in college football – against Southern Methodist University in 1987 – the association isn’t shying away from such a drastic sanction.
“We need to make sure that we’ve got, for the committee on infractions, all the tools they need to create those kinds of deterrents,” Emmert told USA Today. “If that includes the death penalty, I’m fine with that.”
And while the likelihood of the death penalty remains questionable, the possibility of the willful violators clause is not welcome news for an already-embattled athletic department. Miami athletic director Shawn Eichorst released a statement Thursday assuring the school’s commitment to “the integrity of the NCAA investigation” and “demanding the full cooperation of our employees and student-athletes.”
“There are tough times ahead, challenges to overcome and serious decisions to be made, but we will be left standing and we will be stronger as a result,” Eichorst said. “I understand there are unanswered questions, concerns and frustration by many but this athletic department will be defined now and in the future, by our core values, our integrity and our commitment to excellence, and by nothing else. The University of Miami, as an institution of higher learning, is a leader in exploration, achievement and excellence and we will work hard to do our part to live up to that standard.”
[Photo gallery: Miami booster parties with athletes]
Shapiro is a Miami booster currently serving a 20-year federal prison term for operation a $930 million Ponzi scheme. He detailed to Yahoo! Sports a wide-ranging eight-year run of violations that include cash, gifts, prostitution, entertainment at nightclubs and strip clubs, parties at his mansion, yacht cruises and other benefits. Yahoo! Sports found at least seven coaches, three support staff members and 72 athletes with direct involvement or knowledge of infractions committed by the booster from 2002 to 2010.
For the NCAA, sentencing a major football program to the “Death Penalty” is the equivalent of dropping the atomic bomb. It’s only been deployed once, in the most extreme of circumstances, and to suchdevastating effect that it’s almost inconceivable that the button could ever be pushed again — at least in part because no program, or anyone who cares enough about a program to cheat on its behalf, would be willing to take the risk again.
It’s that context that makes the scope of Yahoo! Sports’ sprawling, meticulously documented account of NCAA violations at the University of Miami over the last decade so difficult to summarize. Since the NCAA nuked SMU’s program in 1987, there’s really no comparison to the story outlined Tuesday by reporters Charles Robinson and Dan Wetzel. We’re not talking about one player getting paid by an agent, or a father soliciting money on behalf of his son, or half a dozen players exchanging memorabilia for tattoos, or even the head coach lying about what he knew about half a dozen players exchanging memorabilia for tattoos. We’re not parsing the merits of a scouting report here.
There is no equivalent in the last quarter-century of the number of players, the amount of money, the extent of the opulence or the level of entrenched access of the booster in question, Nevin Shapiro, who now ranks among the most infamous figures in the history of the sport.
Through 100 jailhouse interviews with Shapiro himself, nearly 100 more interviews with other sources, more than 25,000 pages of financial, business and cell phone records, and more than 1,000 photographs over the last 11 months, Robinson and Wetzel surmised that Shapiro’s web had ensnared…
• 25 former NFL draft picks, including 13 first-rounders. Among the most high-profile names: Devin Hester,Vince Wilfork, D.J. Williams, Jonathan Vilma, Willis McGahee, Andre Johnson, Frank Gore, Kellen Winslow Jr. and the late Sean Taylor.
• 7 players who now play for other schools, including Florida wide receiver Andre Debose and Kansas Staterunning back Bryce Brown, a one-time Miami commit who was ranked as the No. 1 incoming prospect in the country in 2009.
• 7 former assistant coaches with alleged “knowledge or direct participation” in violating NCAA rules.
• 2 first-round picks, Jon Beason and Vince Wilfork, who signed to an agency Shapiro allegedly co-owned, Axcess Sports & Entertainment.
The dollar total involved may be impossible to surmise. Shapiro’s attorney told the Miami Herald earlier this week she didn’t have a figure attached to the illegal benefits he says he provided, but it clearly exceeded her estimate of “well over thousands of dollars”: For eight years, Shapiro lavished players with cash, hotel rooms, invitation-only parties with scores of prostitutes, entertainment in his multimillion-dollar homes and his yacht, paid trips to high-end restaurants and nightclubs, jewelry, bounties for on-field play (including bounties for injuring opposing players), travel and on at least one occasion, an abortion. By his own estimate, he spent millions — all of it stolen, part of the $930 million he swindled from investors in a Ponzi scheme that put him behind bars for 20 years.
He spent thousands in bona fide booster fashion, too, and reaped the usual benefits: A suite at home games, access to the press box and sideline, occasional face time with coaches and university officials, an occasional seat on the team plane, a player lounge named in his honor. But he was not the rogue booster discreetly slipping cash into players’ hands in a back room somewhere outside Fort Lauderdale. He was the guy who tried to install a stripper pole in his suite in LandShark Stadium. He was the guy who tried to fight the compliance directorin the Orange Bowl press box. He was a guy who openly aspired to be the next “Uncle Luke”:
“Here’s the thing: Luther Campbell was the first uncle who took care of players before I got going,” Shapiro said, referring to the entertainer notorious for supplying cash to Miami players in the 1980s and 1990s. “His role was diminished by the NCAA and the school, and someone needed to pick up that mantle. That someone was me. He was ‘Uncle Luke,’ and I became ‘Little Luke.’
“I became a booster in late 2001, and by early 2002, I was giving kids gifts. From the start, I wasn’t really challenged. And once I got going, it just got bigger and bigger. I just did what I wanted and didn’t pay much mind toward the potential repercussions.”
He was a guy who considered himself the owner of a de facto pro franchise, and he was basically right.
From an NCAA compliance perspective, there is nothing, nothing, that this story lacks. A prominent booster of a major program with a long rap sheet of NCAA violations spent huge sums of ill-gotten money providing dozens of players with cash, gifts and sex for nearly a decade, under two different head coaches. The university president, athletic director and coaches knew him by name and enthusiastically accepted his money; for a while, they literally put his name on a piece of the program. And he implicates multiple assistant coaches. And he owned a sports agency that signed high-profile Miami players on their way to the draft. And then he turned out to be an even more prominent federal criminal, on a scale that prompted the local press to compare him to Caligula. (And this is the local press in Miami we’re talking about, which knows from squalid excess.) And if he hadn’t been thrown in prison for perpetuating one of the most massive frauds in U.S. history, he never would have been caught — by the NCAA, by Yahoo! Sports, and certainly not by Miami.
If it wasn’t true, you couldn’t make it up. It is such a nightmare, such a perfect storm of arrogance, negligence and corruption, that it’s almost a parody of the genre. It’s a feature film that makes you roll your eyes and wonder how they ever expected an audience to swallow that it was “inspired by true events.”
It’s also a test of the NCAA’s mettle: Just how far is it willing to go to continue to enforce the facade of “amateurism”? In the most extreme, unabashed affront to its most fundamental premise — hell, to its veryexistence — in 25 years, where does it draw the line?
I don’t know the answer, and I doubt anyone will for a long time. The NCAA process is well underway, and its response is going to be the usual long, protracted exercise in bureaucratic tooth-pulling, spanning many months and many bureaucratic steps, and probably an appeal or two in the name of giving Miami its due process. At no point in that span will I write that Miami is going to get the death penalty, or that it shouldget the death penalty. Frankly, I don’t have an opinion.
But if the death penalty is in the bylaws, it must be on the table here. Practically speaking, if this isn’t a death penalty case, then the death penalty no longer exists.
ORIGINALLY POSTED HERE–> DEATH PENALTY FOR MIAMI