There won’t be a parade in front of the Schwartz Center, and there won’t be champagne opened inside UM’s compliance office.
But Friday will mark a significant day for the Hurricanes athletic program: the end of NCAA probation and the official conclusion of a six-year odyssey that brought the Hurricanes national embarrassment, two self-imposed bowl bans, loss of scholarships and considerable angst.
“For me, there’s no [cloud lifted],” said UM athletic director Blake James, who wasn’t athletic director when the violations leading to probation were committed.
“Maybe the coaches in the front lines [feel that way regarding] recruiting. For me, it’s important to operate by the rules every day. Just because probation ends, we shouldn’t ease up on all the policies and procedures we put in place.”
UM’s three-year probation, the result of players receiving benefits from rogue booster Nevin Shapiro and several coaches also breaking NCAA rules, proved damaging in both football and basketball.
Football was docked nine scholarships over the past three years, basketball three.
Now that it’s over with I can see the difference in our recruiting. Last year it began by signing Dewan Huell and Bruce Brown, two highly recruited kids.
UM men’s basketball coach Jim Larranaga
The NCAA ruled UM “lacked institutional control” and there were “many violations undetected by [UM] over a 10-year period,” with 30 student athletes and several football and basketball coaches “involved with the booster.”
Mark Richt and other coaches have bemoaned UM’s lack of depth, “and a big reason is we don’t have 85 scholarships,” former UM player and current UM director of player development Joel Rodriguez said earlier this year. “Where you are missing five to seven scholarships, if you’re recruiting well, that’s probably two or three first-round draft picks.
“The limitations on scholarships and the remnants of that are still hurting the depth of the program. We went into spring practice this year with five scholarship receivers. But all it takes is one or two recruiting cycles and all of a sudden you’re back where you want to be.”
Basketball coach Jim Larranaga agrees: “Being on probation and being investigated - that’s more than five years we’ve dealt with it, that’s had a major impact,” he said.
“Now that it’s over with I can see the difference in our recruiting. Last year it began by signing Dewan Huell and Bruce Brown, two highly recruited kids.”
Besides the loss of scholarships and a self-imposed bowl ban in 2011 and 2012, this NCAA sanction also was damaging: UM could provide a prospect on unofficial visits with complementary tickets for only one home game during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 academic years. There are no limitations for programs that aren’t on probation.
That sanction was hurtful, because, as James explained: “There’s a ton of talent in South Florida. To have the benefit of those kids coming to every single home game, whether it’s football, basketball, women’s soccer whatever, to give them a ticket to a game was a win for us.
“What the NCAA has said is we [could] only give them one ticket per year. If they [went] to a volleyball game, they can’t come to a football game. That’s one that has had a bigger impact. It’s a hometown advantage to have these kids enjoy the Miami Hurricanes before they get to the point of official visits and seeing other schools.”
There also was this NCAA sanction that affected coaches in a very personal way the past three years: For all sports, any staff member who sent an impermissible text to a prospect was fined a minimum of $100 per message, and subject to a seven-day suspension from all recruiting activities. That resulted in UM monitoring text messages of coaches.
“I’m sure there were violations because we’re human,” James said.
James said decisions must be made on several other rules that UM implemented on its own after the Shapiro scandal – such as whether to resume allowing former UM football players on the sidelines during games (James and Richt will discuss that next offseason).
Another UM rule that will be re-evaluated: During probation, UM stopped permitting players to have home-cooked meals at booster’s homes, even though the NCAA allows that.
“There are certain [rules] we feel are best for program to keep in place and some we might say we might be better to modify,” James said.
Among other rules UM implemented: Boosters and Trustees are required to sign documents, acknowledging they understand NCAA rules, when they go on the road with a UM team.
“The sanctions created an even greater vigilance inside the program,” James said. “As a staff anytime you go through what we went through, you are more vigilant than programs that haven’t gone through it.”
But as James and UM officials will tell you, major athletic programs can never fully exhale. Athletes always will be tempted with impermissible benefits, and that happened again this year when Al Quadin Muhammad, Jermaine Grace and Juwon Young were booted from the team for their role in a luxury-car scandal.
And apparently, they weren’t the only athletes looking for perks.
One agent based outside South Florida said he has stopped recruiting UM players because “the majority of them are like, ‘What can you do for me?’”
He said a soon-to-be draft-eligible Hurricanes player (which wasn’t one of the aforementioned and not Brad Kaaya, either) earlier this year asked him if he could get him use of a luxury vehicle that he could take to South Beach. One player also asked for jet skis, the agent said.
UM’s compliance office, and Richt, can warn players repeatedly about the consequences of accepting impermissible benefits. But ultimately, if players want to break the rules, they will find a way, and there will always be someone sleazy who will help them do it.
Is that frustrating, knowing there’s only so much a university can do?
The sanctions created an even greater vigilance inside the program. As a staff anytime you go through a staff what we went through, you are more vigilant than programs that haven’t gone through it.
UM athletic director Blake James, who was not athletic director at the time of the violations
“You have to educate on rules and expectations and do what you can to make sure everyone is following them and trust they make good decisions and have good integrity,” James said.
What ultimately doomed UM were bizarre circumstances: a spurned booster and convicted Ponzi schemer (Shapiro) angry that former players and UM coaches wouldn’t loan him money, and in the car rental case, an ex-girlfriend of Juwon Young reportedly telling the UM administration.
Are all other major college programs substantially cleaner than UM was during the years Shapiro did as he pleased? Probably not. Al Golden’s staff privately complained about rampant cheating among SEC school.
But those schools were simply luckier than UM, fortunate that they didn’t have a bitter, imprisoned Ponzi schemer to deal with.
“The individual,” as James said of Shapiro, “had a lot of issues.”
He’s serving his 20-year federal sentence in a New Jersey prison and is due for release in 2027.
On Friday, UM finally moves past the damage that he and others wreaked.
For my UM blog today with lots of injury news and a bunch of other nuggets, please click here.
And for my post today with news on a rumored Goran Dragic trade and other Heat nuggets, plus Dolphins news and a Xavien Howard update, please click here.
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