IN MY OPINION

Greg Cote: UM helpless in NCAA’s crosshairs

 
 
University of Miami's Athletic Director Blake James during football media day on campus Friday, August 9, 2013.
University of Miami's Athletic Director Blake James during football media day on campus Friday, August 9, 2013.
Al Diaz / Miami Herald Staff

gcote@MiamiHerald.com

If you’ll forgive an estimate and a rounded number for dramatic effect, let’s just go ahead and call it “1,000 Days of Hell” now — and counting — for University of Miami athletics in the bumbling hands of the ponderous NCAA.

Will it never end?

(That isn’t a rhetorical question. I’m beginning to wonder.)

Watching the NCAA move toward a conclusion in its UM investigation is like watching a giant tortoise and a three-toed sloth race toward a checkered flag. You assume something must be happening, but, with the imperially secretive NCAA, progress cannot be measured or seen. It’s like watching a glacier and trying to notice it melt.

“All I know every day when I wake up is we’re one day closer to the end,” UM athletics director Blake James told us Monday, frustrated (his word) but tactful. “We’ve taken all the steps an institution could take given our situation to put ourselves in a position to move forward.”

That we’re not positive when the clock on this investigation should begin — that alone tells you how long this has dragged on.

It was August 2010 when renegade Hurricanes booster Nevin Shapiro first went public with claims and threats of a tell-all book. Within months he went to the NCAA, which began its probe in March 2011 and officially informed UM of it that August.

To arrive at our 1,000-day clock we start it around winter 2010, just before New Year’s, when it is believed the NCAA first heard from its snitch.

One thousand days later, Shapiro is doing 20 years in prison for a $930 million Ponzi scheme — Canes fans might call that proof of karma — and UM remains in a jail of its own, not knowing what its sentence will be or when it might come.

Men’s basketball has a lesser role in this matter, but mainly it is Al Golden’s football program that waits to see whether its dream season will be snatched away. The Canes are unbeaten, No. 15 in the AP poll and pounding toward what they hope is an Atlantic Coast Conference championship — but that will be up to the NCAA as much as it’s up to Canes players.

There is a word for a situation like that.

Helpless.

Yet Golden has held his program together and moved it forward.

“We couldn’t have asked for Al to be a greater champion through all this than what he’s been,” James said. “I can’t say enough positives for how I feel Al’s handled this situation he completely inherited.”

This is the long cloud over our civic parade.

So much to love in major Miami sports right now. The Canes and Dolphins both are 3-0 together for the first time since 2002. The defending champion Heat are about to open training camp in search of a three-peat. Panthers hockey is unfurling. Youth and talent embodied in pitcher Jose Fernandez make the Marlins’ future seem bright.

But that sledgehammer poised over UM football demands an eye both weary and wary.

The Hurricanes thought closure finally was at hand back in June when, after receiving the official Notice of Allegations, UM presented its defense to the NCAA Committee on Infractions in Indianapolis, where college’s governing body is headquartered.

A final verdict was expected in six to eight weeks. It has been almost 14 weeks.

Judge and jury

College’s police, judge and jury (aka the NCAA) should discipline itself with a statute of limitations so schools being investigated are not put through years of what Miami has endured — tantamount to a punishment in and of itself.

Golden and his current players inherited this mess, are guilty of nothing but have been paying for the sins of others.

There has to be a better way for the NCAA to define “fair.”

Miami’s self-imposed penalties have been extraordinary. The football program already has previously suspended eight involved players for 19 games, reduced scholarships and borne two consecutive seasons of postseason bans. That has cost UM two bowl games plus last year’s chance to play in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game for a spot in the Orange Bowl Classic — perhaps once-in-a-lifetime stuff.

To think this damnable delay by the NCAA continues and could yet cost Miami a third consecutive postseason ban is outrageous.

James can’t say that publicly but seems hopeful it might not happen, saying, “It would be unprecedented for us to be given anther bowl ban. We’ve done everything on that front that we need to do.”

If you didn’t know better, you might even think the NCAA was intentionally delaying a final verdict simply to extend Miami’s agony, perhaps as punishment for UM president Donna Shalala publicly scolding the NCAA’s “unethical and unprofessional” conduct in the investigation.

Come to think of it, we don’t know that isn’t true and it would hardly be a great leap to imagine it is. The NCAA, in general and particularly in this case, has earned no benefit of doubt or assumption it will do things right.

Yes, UM’s lack of oversight allowed Shapiro to run dirty and loose for years, giving improper benefits to athletes. Some of that is clear and undisputed.

But three factors must be weighed heavily.

One is Shapiro’s own lack of witness credibility as a man imprisoned for a financial scheme built on lies, and a man whose prison communications have showed a vindictiveness toward Hurricanes football.

Another is UM’s own unprecedented self-imposed penalties to atone for past wrongs and steps taken to ensure they won’t happen again.

Botched probe

The third, of course, is the NCAA’s serious corruption in this investigation, problems that have resulted in investigators being fired, an independent internal review and large chunks of evidence to be tossed out. There was a even an embarrassed admission of wrongdoing from NCAA president Mark Emmert himself, who acknowledged at a speaking engagement on Monday that the governance of college sports needs “a lot of change,” and that the NCAA’s public image is negative.

Weigh all three of the above factors and it is clear Miami has been punished enough. Miami has served its time.

This investigation has become a national farce, first for the NCAA’s clownish bungling of it, and now for the sheer duration of it.

Enough, enough, enough!

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