Was Miami's athletics department so broke that it didn't bother looking into the background of a suspiciously rich white dude who was extremely excited by the prospect of being in close proximity to 18 year-old black kids? It appears so, and because of that we are probably about to learn what the NCAA considers to be the nearest level to the death penalty.
Yesterday, our friend chicagomaroon said the violations at SMU "pale in comparison" to those alleged in Yahoo! Sports' latest piece of investigative journalism. That's a little bit hyperbole at this point, but we might be getting there. It just depends on whether you think a slush fund pales in comparison to a Ponzi scheme.
Before you go comparing the allegations against Miami's program to what happened at SMU, remember that the Mustangs were caught multiple times over a short time frame. Thus far, the incidents at Miami are contained to one booster. Whether or not you can add the adjective "rogue" in front of booster will eventually determine whether Nevin Shapiro's claims can be compared to SMU.
The preliminary reports are that Randy Shannon and Larry Coker allegedly were aware Shapiro was providing improper benefits to players and that Donna Shalalalalalala knew Shapiro was a booster. Meanwhile, a source tells AP that then-athletics director Kirby Hocutt signed off on Shaprio's access to the program.
If we find out the university president (Shalala) and athletics director (Hocutt) knew about the improper benefits from Shapiro, that's when we start wandering into SMU territory. SHOULD Shalala and Hocutt have known about Shapiro's dealings? Well, if you ask Paul Dee, who preceded Hocutt as athletics director at The U, they definitely should have.
But with Miami's athletics department by all accounts strapped for cash, the Canes may have been blinded by their good fortune with Shapiro. Just look at the picture of Frank Haith, Shapiro and Shalala published by Yahoo! Sports from a basketball fundraiser. The look on Shalala's face says, "I can't believe that sucker gave us $50,000," and the look on Shapiro's face says, "I can't believe that sucker thinks this money is real."
According to Shapiro, every cent from that $50,000 check was Ponzi money. But it was $50,000 the Canes needed as desperately as Shapiro needed to galavant around town with Miami's star players. Now, Miami finds itself in hot water with the NCAA, the likes of which we haven't seen since SMU was given the death penalty. While the Canes will probably avoid that fate, the punishment may at least feel like death to the team's administrators, players and fans.
How this will affect the Hurricanes for the 2011 season remains to be seen. Based on Yahoo!'s account, the allegations against players currently on the roster aren't as extravagant and those against the former Canes. Some kind of suspension could come down for the 12 current players involved in the Shapiro mess. The Seventh Floor does a good job of looking at what Miami's depth chart will look like if that happens.
Last year, suspensions levied against North Carolina's players suspected of improper benefits and/or academic improprieties were varied. Some missed the whole season while others were back by the time the Heels hosted the Hokies in their 10th game. With Miami facing Virginia Tech in their fifth game of 2011, there's a chance a higher percentage of the 12 players could miss that game than if it were in November.
For more on what the Miami news means for Virginia Tech, read David Teel's blog from earlier today.
More Coastal Trouble
Miami is the third team from the ACC Coastal division to be in trouble with the NCAA in a little over a year. Last season, the offseason was full of allegations against North Carolina's football team. First, it was benefits from an agent connected to assistant coach John Blake. Then, academic troubles involving a tutor who was previously employed by head coach Butch Davis.
The firestorm was enough to eventually cost Davis his job, even though he wasn't mentioned in the NCAA's notice of allegations. Chances are UNC was following Ohio State's script of removing those who knew or should have known about the violations throwing itself at the mercy of the NCAA.
This year, Georgia Tech was stripped of its 2009 conference title, placed on probation until 2015 and fined after it played a player whose eligibility was in question after it was notified by the NCAA about possible improper benefits. The Yellow Jackets will appeal the NCAA's ruling.
None of the three schools have faced a reduction of scholarships or postseason ban from the NCAA yet. Both of those options may be on the table for UNC and Miami (especially for Miami). The immediate impact for the Hokies is they could face the team expected to challenge them for the Coastal crown while short-handed. The long-term impact is that the Hokies could be in a division with two crippled programs and one forced to watch its step.