While University of Miami sports fans crowded the airwaves and chat boards Wednesday commiserating about their woes and demanding accountability for the Hurricanes’ newest national mess, the NCAA said it would consider “substantive changes to Division I intercollegiate athletics.’’
A written statement released by NCAA president Mark Emmert acknowledged the Hurricanes’ predicament and publicly confirmed that Miami has been the subject of an investigation for quite some time.
“If the assertions are true,’’ Emmert said, “the alleged conduct at the University of Miami is an illustration of the need for serious and fundamental change in many critical aspects of college sports. This pertains especially to the involvement of boosters and agents with student-athletes.
“While many are hearing about this case for the first time, the NCAA has been investigating the matter for five months. The serious threats to the integrity of college sports are one of the key reasons why I called together more than 50 presidents and chancellors last week.’’
The Hurricanes’ world was rocked this week when it was reported that NCAA investigators were on campus Monday conducting interviews regarding the relationships between football players and former booster Nevin Shapiro. But that world was sent into an absolute frenzy by Tuesday night after Yahoo! Sports reported that convicted Ponzi schemer Shapiro “provided thousands of impermissible benefits to at least 72 athletes from 2002 through 2010’’ – from dinners to yacht cruises to jewelry to prostitutes.
Twelve current football players, a basketball player and six former coaches were among those implicated by Shapiro, now serving a 20-year prison sentence for his $930 million scam. Fans, boosters, former players and parents of current players expressed fear Wednesday that this latest blight on the Canes could result in the NCAA death penalty.
“People are angered at this guy Shapiro,’’ said 1992 Heisman Trophy winner Gino Torretta, 41, a College Football Hall of Fame member who hosts a sports radio show on WQAM. “They’re shocked and questioning how the university didn’t somehow do more to stop this guy.
“If somebody asked me, ‘What’s the worst part of all this?’ I’d answer, ‘That my alma mater might not have a football program anymore.’’’
Added Torretta: “Obviously the death penalty at SMU didn’t deter anybody.’’
The “death penalty’’ is the term given to an NCAA action that bans a school from competing in a sport for at least one year. The death penalty has been implemented only once in football, in 1987 after Southern Methodist University was found guilty of paying players $61,000 from a slush fund provided by a booster and acknowleged by athletic department staff. SMU also chose not to play in 1988.
“I was talking this morning with a friend who is a compliance director at a major school, and I said to him, ‘Will the NCAA give [UM] the death penalty?’’’ said college sports historian and Cal Berkeley visiting professor Murray Sperber. “He said, ‘No. No way.
“It would seem to me on the basis of [lack of institutional control], Miami is a very ripe candidate for the death sentence. They’ll argue they had institutional control, that this was just a rogue booster. But if the documents are as damning as Yahoo! describes them, it would seem to me they would be definite candidates.’’
Harry Rothwell, general manager of AllCanes retail store across the street from campus, said he felt like he had been “kicked in the stomach,’’ but was trying to keep his sanity and sense of humor. “Who knows?’’ Rothwell said. “Maybe by next week we’ll be called, AllIceCream, or AllYogurt. The good news is that kids are getting back to school and we’ve had business. People are showing solidarity.
“I’d say the reaction has been a cross between shock, disappointment, aggravation and hate toward this man for being so vindictive. If the guy fell on a bar of soap and didn’t wake up, I wouldn’t be disappointed.’’
Eli Gurwytz, an 18-year-old UM freshman, was checking in to freshman orientation Wednesday. “I’m still a full supporter of the Hurricanes, regardless of the scandals,’’ Gurwytz said. “I don’t blame anyone. Students, some of them are economically deprived. Scholarships aren’t enough.’’
UM president Donna Shalala also spoke Wednesday, responding to the firestorm for the first time. Shalala said she was “upset, disheartened and saddened’’ by the allegations, and mentioned the joint investigation between the school and NCAA.
“Make no mistake,’’ she said in the written statement, “I regard these allegations with the utmost seriousness and understand the concern of so many of you. We will vigorously pursue the truth, wherever that path may lead, and I have insisted upon complete, honest and transparent cooperation with the NCAA from our staff and students.’’
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