Miami could take a major NCAA hit
Just last year, Paul Dee, chairman of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions, had some choice words for USC, calling the case against the school and its star running back a “three feet” -- for the height of the paperwork.
Then, saying an example should be made of USC as a warning to others, his committee slammed the school with a two-year football bowl ban, took away 30 scholarships and delivered a sermon on the matter.
“High-profile athletes demand high-profile compliance,” Dee proclaimed.
On Wednesday, Dee was in the spotlight of another NCAA scandal. Only this one was at the University of Miami, where he was athletic director from 1993 through 2008.
In interviews with Yahoo! Sports, a former Miami booster named Nevin Shapiro said that while he was cutting checks to the university of from 2002 through 2010 he was also providing impermissible benefits to 72 athletes -- most of them football players, including 12 on the Hurricanes’ current roster.
Among the benefits: sex parties with prostitutes, nightclub and strip club visits, cash, cars, jewelry, clothing, travel, televisions and bounty payouts to players for knocking out quarterbacks, “hit of the game” and “big plays.”
Shapiro, who has been cooperating with the government and Yahoo! while in jail for his role in a $930-million Ponzi scheme, said he even paid for an abortion after a Miami player’s liaison with a strip-club dancer. He also said several Miami coaches knew of the violations.
If true, his claims could stack up to a case that dwarfs USC’s.
“This makes the USC case look like USC was selling Girl Scout cookies,” said Michael Buckner, a Florida-based attorney who has represented coaches and schools in other NCAA cases, “because of the length of time it went on and the level of involvement with athletes and interaction with administrators, which you didn’t have at USC.”
Dee, who has since retired from the NCAA, acknowledged in an interview with the Palm Beach Post that he knew the booster but “didn’t have any suspicion” Shapiro was breaking rules.
“He didn’t do anything to cause concern,” Dee said. “In terms of kids getting close to him or him getting close to the kids, I have no knowledge of that and my staff had no knowledge of that.”
That was the same claim USC made in case of running back Reggie Bush -- that what Bush and his family were doing in San Diego with agents was not known by the school.
At USC on Wednesday, officials privately steamed. The Trojans started practice earlier this month leading up to a second consecutive season in which they are banned from participating for a conference championship or in a bowl game.
Athletic Director Pat Haden said only, “What we at USC are looking for is a consistency in rules that are applied. Consistency. That’s all we ask.”
Chris Galippo, a starting linebacker for the Trojans whose final two seasons of eligibility have been marred by NCAA sanctions, said of Dee: “A little bit of hypocrisy for sure. I think that’s pretty obvious. What goes around comes around a little bit.”
Dee was also in charge when Miami was hit with major sanctions -- a one-year bowl ban and the loss of 31 scholarships -- in another scandal involving the misuse of Pell Grants in the mid-1990s. After that, he served a nine-year term on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions.
“I know with absolute certainty that we controlled the things we could control,” Dee told the Post. "? We did as much as we could, but when something bad happens, you feel like you should have done more.”
In a statement, University of Miami President Donna Shalala said she was “upset, disheartened, and saddened by the recent allegations leveled against some current and past student-athletes and members of our Athletic Department.” She also pledged “complete, honest, and transparent cooperation with the NCAA form our staff and students.”
The NCAA acknowledged Wednesday that it had been investigating Miami for five months. Mark Emmert, president of the organization, said in a statement that the allegations, if true, were “an illustration of the need for serious and fundamental change in many critical aspects of college sports ? especially to the involvement of boosters and agents.”
At least one prominent Florida sports figure urged caution, noting that Shapiro is a convicted felon. Urban Meyer, the respected former football coach at the University of Florida, made those comments on ESPN as video clips ran showing Shapiro on the field slapping hands and greeting Miami players before a game.
The Yahoo! report included photographs, receipts and multiple witnesses.
The list of prominent major college athletic programs in hot water with the NCAA has been growing. In the past 18 months alone, eight top-flight football teams have been investigated or sanctioned.
Last season began with North Carolina mired in an improper benefits and academic scandal that resulted in 14 players missing at least one game and ended with Cam Newton, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback of national champion Auburn, under scrutiny because of claims his father shopped him for cash during his recruitment.
After the season, perennial Rose Bowl contender Ohio State was rocked by a scandal that cost Coach Jim Tressel his job. Other allegations have led to investigations of reigning Pacific 12 Conference champion Oregon and Southeastern Conference power Louisiana State.
The NCAA’s Emmert last week led a group of university presidents, including Miami’s Shalala, in drafting an outline for improvements in college sports, calling for academic reform, scholarship guidelines and a more concise rule book.
Some NCAA critics have suggested that the NCAA use some of the millions it makes off its March Madness basketball tournament with a cut of what the Bowl Championship Series makes in bowl games to fund an independent investigative arm.
“I’ve always maintained that the Committee on Infractions needs to be conducted outside the NCAA,” NCAA watchdog Buckner said. “They need to be outside the building. They need to move toward a more independent body.”
Times staff writer Mike Hiserman contributed to this report.
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