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Miami’s brewing NCAA scandal could tower over USC case

The chairman of the NCAA committee on infractions said last year the case against USC was, literally, a “three-feet.”

That’s how high the paperwork would stack, he said, if you started a pile on the floor.

The chairman said the NCAA was going to make an example out of USC in the hope it would serve as a warning to other schools. USC football was slammed with a two-year bowl ban and the loss of 30 scholarships as the result of violations involving star running back Reggie Bush.

The chairman said the NCAA concluded that even if USC didn’t know what was going on in San Diego, well, it should have. It was a powerful message.

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“High-profile athletes demand high-profile compliance,” the chairman said.

The chairman’s name was Paul Dee. He was the former, long-time athletic director at the University of Miami.

As the Church Lady used to say, “Well, isn’t that special?”

Miami made news Tuesday when Yahoo! Sports, the same outfit that broke the Bush story, detailed allegations of widespread abuses. The charges, if true, make USC’s violations look like parking 30 minutes in a 20-minute zone. Miami, it seems, still has vices.

Nevin Shapiro, a booster who agreed to cooperate with the government and Yahoo! while he sits in jail for his role in a $930-million Ponzi scheme, is singing like a Hurricane canary.

Shapiro claims that from 2002 through 2010, while he was contributing money to Miami athletics, he also provided thousands of impermissible benefits for at least 72 athletes.

What kind of benefits did Shapiro allegedly provide?

Oh, stuff like prostitutes, bounty payouts to players for “hit of the game,” and “big plays.” Also: jewelry, clothing, travel, televisions, house/yacht privileges and strip clubs. Shapiro said he even paid for an abortion after a Miami player impregnated a strip-club dancer. He said the player didn’t know of the payoff — as if that makes it OK.

Shapiro claims several Miami assistant coaches knew of the violations. These accusations aren’t entirely new — they first surfaced last summer — and Miami has been cooperating with the NCAA.

“The University of Miami takes these matters very seriously,” the school said in a statement.

Shapiro’s credibility can certainly be challenged. However, the depth of detail and corroboration provided by Yahoo! is mind-boggling. People at Southern Methodist University are probably reading this and saying, “And we got the Death Penalty?” Shoot, SMU only had “a payroll to meet.”

USC fans have to be incredulous — even while acknowledging what Reggie Bush did was wrong.

Dee was Miami’s AD from 1993 through 2008. He was in charge when Miami was hit with major sanctions in the mid-1990s. Sports Illustrated, in a 1995 cover story, suggested Miami had become so corrupt it should drop football. Some people thought that idea was way over the top.

The Hurricanes recovered from probation and bounced back to win the Bowl Championship Series title in 2001. The next year, we’re led to believe, Shapiro entered the room.

Sports Illustrated might want to reprint that 1995 cover with the headline, “Well…?”

Miami’s case is the latest in a scandal-ridden off-season. It follows “Tattoo-U” in Columbus, which led to the resignation of Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel.

North Carolina, a school that heretofore embodied ethics through the teachings of basketball Coach Dean Smith, recently fired football Coach Butch Davis as the NCAA investigates an alleged academic scandal. Davis, you may recall, was the fresh-start coach hired to get Miami back on track after the mid-'90s sanctions.

The NCAA still has an open investigation on Auburn, last year’s champion, and Oregon, the runner-up.

All these stories broke after new NCAA President Mark Emmert was hired and vowed massive reformation and hard-line resolutions. The NCAA, for sure, is great at retreats.

Emmert held one last week at which university presidents assured the world they were taking matters seriously. But the paint wasn’t dry on Emmert’s tough-talk poster before his grown-up message was undermined by a Texas A&M food-fight that likely will lead to the Aggies’ defection to the Southeastern Conference.

Because …?

Texas A&M is really mad at Texas. ESPN and Texas are in business together on a Longhorn Network TV venture that proposed televising high school games. One hitch in the plan: The NCAA said that was against the rules.

College sports is broken, yet the people vowing to fix it have their hands in the same money jar.

The NCAA doesn’t even control its most lucrative asset, football, because it once lost a game of monopoly to the Supreme Court. Everyone says the right things. “We don’t have the luxury of acting as if it’s business as usual,” Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive said.

And then it’s business as usual.

The New York Times reported that Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe had a heated discussion with Slive over the SEC’s allegedly trying to poach Texas A&M. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany has seen his two pillars, Ohio State and Michigan, undercut by NCAA sanctions.

“That’s embarrassing,” Delany said.

The NCAA is an organization in which members govern themselves — and there’s the ruinous rub. Everybody is an “in-house” hire. Emmert is well-meaning but also former president at Washington, Oregon’s most hated rival.

This leads to potential conflicts of interests, cries of hypocrisy and the laughably ironic case of Dee leading an investigation against USC while his old school was allegedly doing things a thousand times worse.

Dee said USC should have known what was going on? The NCAA needs an independent grand jury to adjudicate matters of mischief.

The problem with setting the retribution bar so high for USC, of course, is it didn’t leave any wiggle room for bounty payoffs and prostitution. If the allegations against Miami are true, the school may have to drop football as a conversation starter with the NCAA infractions committee.

If the case against USC was three feet high, Mr. Dee, how high will it be stacked against Miami?

chris.dufresne@latimes.com


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