If the media is to believed, then Nevin Shapiro may have just crippled or killed the sports team I cherish above all else and have for over 20 years. I figured maybe I should write a blog post about it. Why don't we start with the basics:
-Nevin Shapiro is in jail serving a 20 year sentence for a $930 million Ponzi scheme
-He is also a former University of Miami sports booster
-Between 2002 and 2010, he claims to have provided illegal (according to the NCAA, not the law) benefits to 72 Miami Hurricanes football players (and some basketball, but who cares about UM basketball?) including use of his mansion, yacht, throwing sex parties, buying of strippers and prostitutes and even paying for a stripper's abortion
-Twelve of these players are current players (also one current basketball player)
-6 coaches are implicated as being either knowledgeable or even involved with providing of illegal benefits (Frank Haith [now at Missouri] and five assistants [two basketball, three football] including Joe Pannunzio and Jeff Stoutland [Alabama] as well as Aubrey Hill [Florida])
Now, let's start from the top. The joint investigation of these claims by the University of Miami and the NCAA has been going on for about a year now. When Shapiro first notified the university of the allegations, he and his attorneys refused to provide the university with any facts, so they reported the allegations to the NCAA and the two have been investigating ever since. Along comes Yahoo! Sports and pays Mr. Shapiro to do 100 hours of interviews and provide receipts and photographs to corroborate his claims--all this coming to the surface not too long before Shapiro's tell-all book is set to be published. He has also admitted to having an ax to grind with many of these players he provided benefits to and considered his "friends." A lot of holes are already beginning to emerge in his story, but according to the media, if even half of what he says is true, the Hurricanes deserve the Death Penalty (which, among other things, could mean shutting down the program for a full year).
A key phrase that you'll probably hear a lot in the coming days is "lack of institutional control." As far as I'm concerned, by far the most crucial issue in this mess will be A. how much can be proven about the involvement of the six coaches implicated and B. to what degree the NCAA can say these findings constitute a "lack of institutional control." Every single coach implicated in the investigation is now gone from the university. (As a matter of fact, there's a story going around about a confrontation between Shapiro and UM's Associate Athletic Director of Compliance David Reed--who was hired right around the same time as Randy Shannon took over as head coach--in the press box at halftime of the final game in the Orange Bowl where Shapiro admittedly tried to start a fight with Reed because he had been trying to keep him away from the players--which, of course, is his job. Obviously he didn't keep him far away enough but the guy was a booster and contributed a ton of money to the program which comes with many benefits, none of which are against the NCAA bylaws.) To me, the fair thing to do seems to be to punish the current administration at the university inasmuch as they can be implicated. For starters, I don't think six coaches constitutes "lack of institutional control" considering the efforts of David Reed and the compliance department. This is a rogue booster and a group of corrupt coaches. This is not an institutional failure. Moreover, the only non-student-athlete currently at the school that was around when these violations were going on is president Donna Shalala. If she can be proven to have known about these transgressions or somehow been involved then absolutely the death penalty should be levied. If not, you punish who WAS involved. First of all, every one of these coaches that can be proven to have been involved in this should be fired by whoever currently employs them but the NCAA has nothing to do with that. The same goes for the past players involved but not much chance of that happening and they're now out of the NCAA's jurisdiction. All they can do to them is vacate all wins from 2002-2010 that they are now ineligible for. A number of current players were involved. Fine. Suspend them or kick them off the team. I suppose postseason bans and reduced scholarships are inevitable but I don't think they're fair. Why should people who had nothing to do with this be punished?
The NCAA needs to seriously look at this practice of punishing future generations of NCAA sports programs for the transgressions of past generations. Though, to be sure, that's not the only practice of theirs that needs to be re-examined. It's appearing more and more as though the time has come for top-to-bottom reform of the policies that govern amateur athletes. The NCAA has become an archaic, antiquated institution and have been suppressing a multi-million dollar market for FAR too long. Bomani Jones had a great quote today in an interview on ESPN's Outside the Lines:
"I need somebody to tell me what solution [there is] that can overcome what we all know about basic economics which is that when you suppress wages, a black market is going to occur."
The students who participate in these sports are making millions and MILLIONS of dollars for these schools and don't get to see one nickel of that money. Oh sure, they get a free ride to a prestigious university, but that doesn't exactly feed a student-athlete's low-income family, does it? One player that was interviewed talked about former Canes HB Tyrone Moss taking money from Shapiro because he had a kid at the time he came into the program and he could barely feed his family. I know, I know, most of these accusations include sex parties and mansions and yachts and all manners of excess but you have to understand that many of these kids have never seen money in their lives. This is the kind of culture that gets bred when kids from poor areas who can play a sport or two suddenly come into contact with millionaire contributors to the universities that recruit them to make them money.
Let me say right now, for the record, that I'm not generally someone who is in favor of free market idealism. However, I will say this: these student athletes (and especially the ones who are good enough to make a career out of it) are recruited to these sports programs to make millions of dollars for these schools in an EXTREMELY high risk line of work (which, for those pursuing a career in it, is also an EXTREMELY short term career path) and I don't see how anyone could justify saying that they don't deserve to be compensated a lot more than they are currently. It's the only college major that prepares you for your desired career by essentially placing you in it--a weird concept considering it's one of the most hazardous careers you can go into. I think this is a suitable, if somewhat hyperbolic analogy: imagine if, when you joined the police, they offered free in-the-field training plus room and board without paying you a salary--for four years. Oh, but then they mention that after two years, if you're good enough, you can start getting paid what you're worth to the force--wouldn't be too surprising to see many of them take that offer.
Of course, I'm not suggesting college football become a free market. I can't think of anything more unfair than seeing important university programs get cut back in order to pay student athletes more money. Obviously there should be some regulation on what can be provided. But this hard-line stance that amateur athletes shalt not receive one nickel more than is needed to attend the school they play for is pathetically dated. There is a middle ground between a free market and a suppressed market. A regulated market. I don't pretend to be smart enough or know enough about policy-making to have the answer to the NCAA's problems. Maybe when I'm done with school I will, but at the moment, not so much. That will have to be up to the current NCAA policy makers. One thing is for sure: the system needs to change radically.