IN MY OPINION

Greg Cote: NCAA probe of Miami Hurricanes makes mockery of term ‘speedy trial’

 
WEB VOTE Do you blame the NCAA for its prolonged investigation into the UM program?

gcote@MiamiHerald.com

I’m not sure what the University of Miami and its football program deserve more at this point from the NCAA: a notice of allegations or a letter of apology.

The “speedy trial” clause of the Sixth Amendment at work in the real world evidently makes too much sense for college sports’ judge and jury, and so UM continues to twist in the wind almost 2 1/2 years since Nevin Shapiro first arose publicly from his clandestine sewer bent on bringing down the Hurricanes.

In jurisprudence they say the longer it takes for charges to be brought, the weaker the case — that at some point an “investigation” dragging on and on begins to feel like a witch hunt, or to smell like desperation.

Canes fans can only hope.

It was August 2010 when Shapiro, for years a rogue UM booster gone wild, first went public with all the improper benefits he had supposedly lavished upon dozens of players over several years. Yahoo! Sports’ exposé one year later made the story national. Now, finally, the NCAA reportedly is close to wrapping its case and presenting its formal notice of allegations to the university.

Meanwhile, Miami is into its fourth calendar year living with this cloud, enjoying not the presumption of innocence but the assumption of guilt. Canes football (and to a much lesser degree men’s basketball) already has served what amounts to a substantial probation during which both reputation and recruiting have taken a hit — along with the larger, self-imposed penalties already absorbed.

In effect, coach Al Golden already has served two seasons with hands cuffed, jailed, while awaiting trial for alleged crimes others committed. A class of UM football players guilty of nothing, accused of nothing, already has missed out on two bowl games because of self-imposed postseason bans — plus the honor of playing in this season’s ACC Championship Game, a right earned on the field, then voluntarily sacrificed.

Don’t get this wrong.

I am not saying “oh poor Miami” and absolving the program of whatever its guilt may be. And I say this even with the knowledge Shapiro — doing hard time for a $930 million Ponzi scheme, a pyramid inherently fabricated on lies — might rank among a prosecutor’s least credible witnesses imaginable.

(That is why it was so ludicrous that NCAA investigators supposedly threatened former players that Shapiro’s claims against them would be automatically assumed true if they did not agree to be interviewed. First, that betrays the bedrock presumption of innocence. Second, if you’re going to flip a coin and believe somebody … should it be the guy whose crime literally makes him a convicted liar? Really!? I’m just asking).

Even if one holds Shapiro as a maggot on life’s food chain, though, one must admit the detail of his allegations lends credence, and so, even more so, do the university’s preemptive actions.

You do not do what UM already has done in terms of volunteered penalties unless you are sure you have been guilty of something. In this case that would be a lack of institutional control in terms of identifying Shapiro as a reptile and stopping him sooner.

What I am saying here is that Miami already has substantially served its time and paid its price — to a degree that sanctions yet to come should be modest. That is, if fairness still has a place among the NCAA’s intentions.

Those still clucking about UM perhaps receiving the so-called “death penalty” are untethered from reality, unless I’m the one who’s crazy.

The mitigating factors favorable to Miami are many.

The vast majority of athletes implicated by Shapiro no longer are at UM; neither are the head coaches nor department officials under whose watch the problems occurred.

The university administration has pledged complete cooperation with the NCAA, encouraged its implicated personnel to speak openly with investigators and taken steps to shore its rein on boosters.

The two-year self-imposed postseason ban, encompassing two bowl games and a conference championship game, is unprecedented.

Eight implicated players already were suspended a total of 19 games to start the 2011 season.

Golden already is, in effect, self-imposing a reduction in scholarships to be awarded on National Signing Day on Feb. 6. UM’s 13 commitments so far are the fewest of any ACC team and tied for the fewest of any school whose recruiting class presently is ranked in the national top 35 by ESPN.

All of these things add up to a lot and constitute a good-faith model effort by Miami to take its bitter medicine now, to get past this too-long ordeal and move on.

“We just want to receive the letter,” Golden said. “The day we do that is the day we take a big step forward.”

That notice of allegations and UM’s response to it will precede the NCAA’s eventual ruling on future sanctions, which could come as early as late spring or perhaps not until fall. I would expect those additional penalties to include maybe two more years of reduced scholarships and probation and maybe one additional bowl ban.

I hope I am not giving the NCAA too much credit for fairness.

“I can see the end,” Golden said.

Whenever that is, it will have been an awfully long time coming.

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