In My Opinion

Greg Cote: NCAA’s buffoonery turns Miami Hurricanes into sympathetic victim

WEB VOTE Who looks the worst amid the NCAA's investigation of the Miami Hurricanes program?

The NCAA — corrupted, embarrassed and now playing the obstinate bully — has managed to do the seemingly impossible: It has cast the University of Miami as the sympathetic victim. The side you root for. It has left even longtime UM detractors little choice but to see the judge and jury here as dirtier than the accused.

This is saying a lot, of course, because ever since the mid-1980s, the Hurricanes have worn college athletics’ national black hat, and worn it proudly, too, cocked and brim low, hip hop-style. The school’s notorious badge of honor grew from us-against-the-world, grew from street level, grew from camouflage and attitude. It was a cocktail of controversies off the field and punishing success on it. It was embodied in all of those NFL alums simply (and imperially) referring to “The U.” It is reflected in all of those T-shirts claiming Miami “invented swagger.”

The Hurricanes were antiestablishment and cocky, and unless you loved them, you hated them. They were the Yankees, only more urban.

And the trouble Miami is in now? Man, it was so perfectly scripted to only feed any and all of those negative perceptions of the Canes. I mean, seriously, right? It involved a rampant, renegade booster supposedly offering yacht parties with strippers (not to mention more mundane handouts) to willing student-athletes. Opposing coaches recruiting against UM couldn’t have written it any better … although you know they tried with various embellishments.

Yes, Canes-hating America should be howling at UM’s plight today, perhaps delighted that this long investigation grew so big it even shadowed the best story in college sports right now — Miami’s astonishing ascension to a No. 2 ranking in men’s basketball.

Instead, the university that put the badass in college sports isn’t the bad guy here.

Don’t get this wrong. UM is plenty culpable for allowing defrocked booster Nevin Shapiro (since a convicted and jailed Ponzi-schemer) to run and reign free. And any Canes athletes who partook violated rules. The Hurricanes had punishment coming, without question.

Probe now a sham

The NCAA’s role in this investigation, though, has been a travesty far worse than any UM improprieties that invited the scrutiny in the first place. This NCAA probe turned into an outright sham that has shamed college sports’ governing body — all the more so because it has dragged on for more than two years.

The NCAA’s official Notice of Allegations against Miami, served late Tuesday, includes a charge of “lack of institutional control,” a broad and serious claim. But what’s ludicrous, as well as serious, is the NCAA’s own lack of institutional control in this matter. “The pot calling the kettle black,” as my granpappy used to say.

It’s one thing for a school to violate rules, but far worse when the NCAA, the governing body and de facto police force — the judge and jury — itself proves corrupt.

Two high-ranking enforcement officials were fired for improperly paying Shapiro’s lawyers to obtain information against UM in unrelated depositions — info that would not otherwise been gettable. These officials, renegades like Shapiro, went against the direct advice and order of the NCAA’s own staff counsel in doing so.

Investigators also unethically threatened potential witnesses that Shapiro’s claims against them would be believed unless they cooperated. That’s wrong.

UM also has been told by the NCAA that anything Shapiro said twice to investigators would be considered “corroborated,” which is scary and absurd considering the credibility of the accuser. That’s indefensible.

I cannot write about this too much, or too loudly, because it is important, and because it is an outrage. The NCAA’s actions in this investigation have lowered themselves to outright buffoonery.

Shalala warranted

I credit UM president Donna Shalala, who has turned into Hurricane Donna, in standing up to this nonsense. She has become a bantam force righteously blasting the NCAA. Anyone who considered Shalala to be antiathletics might reconsider the opinion.

She said Tuesday night the university takes “full responsibility” for violations proved factual, and reiterated the school has cooperated fully in the probe. Obviously UM knows many allegations are true; that is why the school already has self-imposed serious sanctions, including two years of football postseason bans that encompassed two bowl games plus the ACC Championship Game.

Shalala also attacked the NCAA where appropriate, though.

She stated, factually, that the group violated its own rules and principles in overzealously trying to prove allegations made by someone Shalala called “a convicted con man” who “made a fortune by lying.”

Shalala said many of the allegations contained in the official notice remain unsubstantiated. She also said the NCAA never interviewed now-deceased athletic director Paul Dee — meaning a supposedly thorough two-year probe somehow managed to overlook the boss of the entire department.

The NCAA’s own corrupted, tainted investigation, the lack of credibility of the main accuser and, most tangibly, Miami’s significant punishment already self-imposed combine to make it feel like the NCAA is vindictively piling on by continuing to pursue additional sanctions.

I hope the university vigorously challenges these official allegations and appeals any additional penalties, and that sounds like what will happen.

“We have suffered enough,” as Shalala put it.

For some, the Miami Hurricanes, as a school or swaggering brand, might always be hard to like. Here, though, it is the shamed, tainted, bullying NCAA that has earned the disrespect and public contempt.

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