Columns & Blogs

Rogue element could take down your alma mater next

These are tough times to be a University of Miami alumnus or booster.

I am both, and I am very disappointed in the lack of institutional control of the athletics program over the past decade or so.

How could the people in charge let a scumbag like Nevin Shapiro, currently serving a 20-year prison term for his role in a $930 million Ponzi scheme, infiltrate their domain and sustain an eight-year run of rampant NCAA rule-breaking?

The buck starts with the president of the university, Donna Shalala, and filters down to former athletics directors Paul Dee (1993-2008) and Kirby Hocutt (2008-2010); to former basketball coach Frank Haith; to several assistant football and basketball coaches.

Interestingly, all of those people, except Shalala, have left the University of Miami. Some like Hocutt (now AD at Texas Tech) and Haith (now basketball coach at Missouri) moved on for what they said were better jobs.

Then there is Dee, the AD when Shapiro first became a booster -- simultaneously making tens of thousands of dollars in contributions to Miami's athletic program and illegally wining and dining recruits, players and coaches.

Dee, who after leaving Miami, was chairman of the NCAA committee on infractions when the group threw the book at Southern Cal for the Reggie Bush scandal.

At the time, Dee said, "High-profile athletes demand high-profile compliance."

Given the magnitude of the Miami violations, that's about as hypocritical as it gets.

In effort of full disclosure, I admit I have long regarded Dee as a lightweight AD.

I stopped my small donations to the athletic department when Dee needlessly awarded a lucrative long-term contract to former football coach Larry Coker. I say "needlessly" because the program was going downhill at the time. Coker was a poor recruiter/coach and nobody was trying to hire him away from Miami.

A year after Dee's foolish contract, Coker was fired and it took the university four years to pay him off. He is now coaching at a college in Texas that is just starting a football program.

The point is, Dee was the perfect man to let Shapiro get a foothold on the Miami program. And if the NCAA is smart, it will ban him from college athletics.

I would hope that if the NCAA finds that Hocutt and Haith are as guilty as Shapiro claims, Texas Tech and Missouri would take some kind of punitive action against them.

Ironically, former Hurricanes football coach Randy Shannon, fired in December for not winning enough games, seems to have been the only person on campus who refused to have anything to do with Shapiro. Too bad he didn't speak up louder.

Tuesday, the NCAA handed out suspensions of various lengths to eight current Hurricane players whom Shannon recruited. Based on the relatively light punishments, it appears the main targets aren't the student-athletes who accepted benefits, but the institutions that fail to prevent the behavior.

Southern Cal has already been punished for allowing booster payments to Reggie Bush's parents and Ohio State is still being investigated for players accepting payments for their memorabilia.

When the NCAA completes its investigation, Miami, like Southern Cal and probably Ohio State, will lose some athletic scholarships and perhaps be banned from bowl games for a couple of years.

I have no problem with that kind of penalty for my alma mater. But let's not forget the adults under whose watch this took place.

Southern Cal's football coach, Pete Carroll, moved on to the NFL and athletics director Mike Garrett quit under duress; Ohio State threw its coach Jim Tressel under the bus and he resigned.

Miami already has a new AD, football coach and basketball coach. None were around when Shapiro did his dirty deeds, but they and about 90 innocent athletes will suffer the consequences of any penalties the NCAA hands down.

That's the shame of what has come to light in recent months at such proud institutions as Ohio State, North Carolina, Tennessee and, yes, Miami.

Who'll be next?

Beware! Win-at-all-costs boosters may be lurking at your alma mater.