After four years, the NCAA investigation into the University of Miami finally ended with the school severely bloodied and battered, but with a bright future intact.
What makes this entire episode so fascinating is that the penalties were in fact severe, but most of them were already served, leaving Canes Family with a sense of relief this is over and the feeling they got off light, even though that hasn’t happened. What happened here was the Canes had been hitting themselves in the head with a hammer for two years, and now the NCAA has come in and said, “okay, you can stop hammering, we are just going to punch you in the face a couple of times.”
That is the proper context for what transpired over the past four years, since Miami first notified the NCAA of potential violations in November of 2009.
Before discussing the specific penalties, I just want to quickly address the findings for those who do not care to read the 102-page report. Overall, there are four parts to this report:
- Part A involves the football program.
- Part B involves the basketball program.
- Part C involves illicit text messages and phone calls.
- Part D involves the university’s system of compliance.
The four parts are detailed in an ironically titled “FINDINGS OF FACT” section which does not actually involve facts, but inferences and other conclusions drawn from circumstantial evidence.
I’m not going to crawl specifically through the entire report, because it’s a bore and a regurgitation of previously debunked “evidence,” but essentially:
“The committee made its factual findings based on information that was corroborated by photographs and statements of others, including the then student-athletes and prospects (against their own interests) and their high school and non scholastic coaches.”
This is buried in a footnote, and is important because that is a very low standard of proof to declare something a fact. Parts A and B instead generally follow the form of telling a long-winded story interspersed with quotes from interviews with coaches, and concluding with facts drawn from that. For example:
“Given the amount of communication that took place around the time the cash was delivered, the committee reaches a factual conclusion that the former head men’s basketball coach did know that former assistant men’s basketball coach A intended to and did deliver a significant amount of cash to the booster’s mother on the day the delivery took place, June 10, 2010.”
I’ll leave it up to the reader to determine whether or not that is appropriate standard for judging something as a “fact,” but suffice it to say if this was a court of law and not a Committee on Infractions, none of that would fly.
It’s also worth noting that they make allegations that they then refute themselves (in footnotes). This serves no purpose other than to mislead and create the illusion that there were more violations than actually occurred. On Page 12, they accuse an assistant coach of taking a volunteer position in exchange for access to a credit card. The problem? In the footnotes on the same page:
“The booster and former assistant football coach A both confirmed that the booster ultimately did not supply the former assistant football coach A with the credit card.”
So he didn’t actually take anything, and the only one claiming he was offered the card was Nevin Shapiro, yet this was in the report. That’s just a sampling of the logical hoops they jumped around to create weighty accusations.
Part C is actually a bit comical. The NCAA takes the school to task for not monitoring the text message and phone usage (something the school self reported). But after all the buildup and hammering of Miami, the volume was shockingly low.
The NCAA painted a bleak picture of rogue phone usage across the athletic department. But after auditing phone records, they found a grand total of 211 illicit phone calls and text messages over a four-year period. And while they implied a department-wide, chronic problem spanning several programs, a majority was just football, and several other programs accounted for an isolated incident or two. Also of note, the reasons given for the majority of the text messages:
“Similar to the coaches in the football program, many of the coaches of other sport programs also believed that text messaging was permissible on the day a prospect signed a NLI”
“Several coaches misunderstood that the National Letter of Intent (NLI) exception to the text-messaging ban and thought they could send text messages to prospects once they had signed their NLI, as opposed to the next day.”
“The coaching staff members reported that they knew NCAA bylaws prohibited them from sending text messages to prospects effective August 1, 2007, except under certain circumstances, because the compliance staff had provided rules education.”
Essentially, the coaches were educated through compliance, but thought they could text newly signed recruits the day they signed instead of the day after. Pretty absurd and hard to imagine this would have caused even a blip on the radar had this occurred outside the context of the larger investigation.
Part D deals with the compliance department. To be frank about it, I don’t know anything about what a compliance department should look like, so any comment I make there would be one of ignorance.
The Conclusions and Penalties
So, what did the NCAA end up giving Miami? The full penalties are here, but the main points are:
- Clint Hurtt, Aubrey Hill and Jorge Fernandez were given two-year show cause orders, meaning if anyone wants to hire them, they must go in front of the COI and explain why. This essentially prevents them from working.
- Frank Haith was suspended for five games.
- The basketball program lost a scholarship per year for three years. This is actually much larger than it seems and is significant.
- The football program lost three scholarships per year, for three years. But as compliance expert John Infante noted, Miami’s reductions are in total, not per year, meaning they have to operate at 82 scholarships per year for three years, but can still enroll full classes (25 per year).
In addition, Miami also had previously self-imposed:
- Two-year bowl ban following the 2011 and 2012 seasons, including the 2012 ACC Championship game.
- Reduction of official paid visits for 2012-13 by 20 percent to a total of 36 visits.
- Reduction of fall evaluations in 2012-13 by six (from 42 to 36).
- Reduction of available contact days during the 2012-13 contact period by 20 percent.
This doesn’t include the dozens of players that were suspended.
The reaction to those penalties provided a Rorschach test for those in the media that were able to assimilate new information and come to reasoned conclusions, and those that are intransigent in their previous stances taken under a faulty premise. What was that faulty premise? That Nevin Shapiro had provided 72 athletes with millions of dollars in extra benefits.
What the NCAA factually found was that “30 student-athletes were involved with the booster”, and “AP review of documents in this case show NCAA accounted for $173,330 in extra benefits. Of that, $90,000 went to Wilfork and Rolle.” So, what was originally reported two years ago as 72 players and millions was actually off by more than half the number of players, and the dollar amount was roughly 1/10th.
This news would cause reasonable people to say, “oops, I was originally wrong.” Some have, like Greg Doyel from CBS Sports. Others, not so much:
This ruling will become the ultimate example of what we already knew. There’s absolutely no incentive to follow NCAA rules.
— Pete Thamel (@SIPeteThamel) October 22, 2013
— Mike Greenberg (@Espngreeny) October 22, 2013
Um what? CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman immediately pointed to why this is absurd:
What happened here is that the University had 30 players guilty of taking roughly $174,000 in extra benefits over a seven-year period, for which they missed two bowl games and an ACC Championship game, and suffered a scholarship reduction. But because the initial sensationalized story put the numbers at 72 players taking millions, and because Miami imposed and already served the postseason bans, out in the land of the ignorant, this turned into “Miami got a slap on the wrist and lost nine scholarships over three years for taking millions in benefits and having more than 70 players involved,” none of which is true.
The mere fact they chose to make a mountain out of the mole hill on text messages and phone calls, something Miami self reported and was more of the result of a misunderstanding then a lack of compliance teaching, highlights the issues they had in actually corroborating the evidence. Think about this… after initially conducting interviews in June of 2010, and spending more than three years digging through Miami’s dirty laundry, one of four parts of the final report focused on something the university self reported four years ago. That shows a weakness in the initial purpose of the investigation and an attempt to circle back after the fact and justify the said investigation by finding something more easily provable.
The media is lining up on two sides, those who chose to keep an open mind and assimilate new facts into their thinking and those who heard the initial allegations, knee-jerked into believing them all, and are now ignoring harsh self-imposed penalties and instead sticking to their guns. On the conference call, it was clearly pointed out just how harsh the self imposed penalties actually are:
NCAA: “To impose a bowl ban is a big deal. A very big deal…those were big decisions that were made by the university.”
— Christy C. Chirinos (@ChristyChirinos) October 22, 2013
As if this entire investigation wasn’t comical and strange enough, apparently, the NCAA decided to conduct the conference call from a bat cave:
There really are no words to describe the chaos that is this call. What is that NOISE?
— Christy C. Chirinos (@ChristyChirinos) October 22, 2013
And that fittingly is where this strange journey comes to an end. The Canes emerge bloodied, battered and bruised, but with a bright future. But do not — for a second — think that Miami got off easy. They got off with manageable (but still significant) additional penalties. They’ve just already served the worst of the penalties. But they were real:
- When Miami did not play in a bowl game in 2011, did not play in the ACC Championship in 2012, and did not play in a bowl game in 2012, that was Miami taking a massive punishment.
- When Miami missed 34 football practices because of skipping bowl games, that was Miami being punished.
- When Miami showed up to the Maryland game in 2011 and lost a close game missing 8 starters, that was Miami being punished.
- When DeQuan Jones was suspended 10 games likely resulting in the Canes missing the NCAA tournament in 2012, that was Miami being punished.
- When Durand Scott and Reggie Johnson were both suspended last minute to cost the Canes both an NCAA Tournament opportunity in 2012 and a likely 1-seed in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, that was Miami being punished.
- When Al Golden tries to recruit and has to refute claims by blowhards that Miami is going to get the death penalty, that is Miami being punished.
- When the NCAA takes four years to simply regurgitate a lot of flimsy accusations, lump on additional penalties, and then drop these penalties on Miami mid-week during the football season, that is Miami being punished.
Miami committed violations, there is no doubt about that. We will never know exactly the scope of those violations. But even with the low burden of proof the NCAA set for themselves, they still fell far short of the initial charges levied in the media. Because of that reporting, Miami paid dearly.
The bulk of the penalties were already served, and today we can view those as a sunk cost. We can feel great about the future of the athletic program, removed from the cloud of the NCAA sanctions, removed from the uncertainty, now knowing that what is coming is manageable. But we should never forget the real damage done here: the lost years and the lost bowl games (Miami last played in a bowl game on December 31, 2010!), because doing so will excuse those who want to paint this as Miami getting away with murder, and will enable the NCAA to take out those frustrations on their next unsuspecting victim. What happened here, both the violations Miami committed and the media/NCAA witch hunt that ensued, should never happen again.
Vishnu Parasuraman (@vrp2003) is a consultant in the Washington, D.C., Metro Area and an editor of the Sebastian’s Pub blog. His work has also been seen on Grantland. He is a graduate of the University of Miami with an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University.
Photo: Josh Baumgard