University of Miami

Miami Hurricanes make changes to prevent another scandal

Rogue booster Nevin Shapiro was the nightmare that kept giving during “a decade’s worth of violations,” according to the 102-page University of Miami infractions report that documented abuses by Shapiro and those who were drawn to him.

“The booster at the center of this case was extremely ‘visible,’ ” the report said. “By granting him special access and celebrating him with the naming of a student lounge, it is clear that the institution embraced him. He certainly did not ‘fly under the radar,’ as the institution asserts, but rather was a major supporter of their athletics program, which creates a greater responsibility to monitor.”

In the end, it was the damage wrought by inadequate oversight that caused Miami officials to review their compliance system and enhance it with hopes that what happened with Shapiro never happens again.

“It takes time to change a culture, but we’re doing it,” UM athletic director Blake James said by phone after the NCAA put the university on three years’ probation and stripped nine scholarships from football and three from basketball. “Are we there yet? No. Will we be there within the next three years before our probation ends? Yes.”

James said UM is “investing in technology and human capital” to improve compliance. “We need everyone to understand if they see something that doesn’t look right, or they hear something that doesn’t sound right, then they need to notify us.

“The challenge is that right now it’s still fresh in everyone’s mind, so it’s probably something that is maybe a little easier, but this has to be the culture going forward because at some point down the road people will look at this as though it’s in the past.

“The reality is it’s with us forever.”

Long-time Hurricanes fans still remember UM’s Pell Grant scandal in the mid-1990s, when “more than $223,000 in impermissible financial aid,” the NCAA report said, “was distributed among 141 football student-athletes from the academic years 1990-91 through 1993-94 and approximately $188,000 in excess of permissible limits was awarded in three other sports because an improper method was used in calculating off-campus room and board stipends.”

And that was just some of what caused the NCAA to hit UM with a bowl ban after the 1995 season and a loss of 31 scholarships in football over three years.

Miami back then indicated to the NCAA that among its corrective actions would be to “establish procedures regarding the presence of former student-athletes in the team locker room and on the sidelines during institutional football games.”

Ironically, one of the changes UM made during the recent investigation was to basically do the same thing. “Back in the 2011 season there were boosters on the field every game,” James said.

Neither boosters nor former players are now allowed on the sidelines, unless a former player is a media member or being honored in an on-field ceremony. In that case, the player is monitored.

Senior associate athletic director for administration Jennifer Strawley, who oversees UM compliance, said former football players now gather in a lounge in the suite area at Sun Life Stadium.

And though NCAA rules allow for athletes to eat an occasional meal at the home of a booster, after the Shapiro case broke, UM instituted a new policy prohibiting any dining at a booster’s home, James said.

The NCAA infractions report also notes that Shapiro “directed his first donation” to UM “in 2001 to the student-athlete scholarship fund,” known then as the Living Scholars program.

“As described by a former student-athlete,” the NCAA noted, “Living Scholar donors were introduced to student-athletes because the donors provided the funds for scholarships” and it was understood that “the student-athletes would ‘rub elbows’ with the Living Scholars because they were presumed to be wealthy.”

Said James: “That’s a program we don’t have anymore.”

Additionally, Miami’s annual “donor trip” to a football game no longer involves boosters flying on the same plane as the team.

“At the point Miami is right now, we had to make decisions about access of student-athletes to boosters,” Strawley said. “Personally, you feel bad because there are many more donors in it for the right reason that are not trying to violate rules. At this point, you’re taking more actions to protect yourself from the one or two bad apples that might be out there.”

Strawley said UM now “ensures there’s a Miami staff member at each table” when athletes and donors are together for awards banquets, for example, or anything similar.

“The biggest way to stop this stuff is you simply do not give the boosters that type of access,” said John Infante, a former Colorado State and Loyola Marymount compliance officer who authors a popular blog called “You can have your nice suites, club seats, talks with the [athletic directors] all you want. … If you want to have these programs where there is more personal contact between a donor and athlete — like Shapiro was using to get close to the athletes — do that in a group setting and have more eyes there.”

The last two of three pages in the infractions report lists Miami’s “corrective actions” taken to improve compliance.

Strawley and associate athletic director for compliance Craig Anderson noted that UM has implemented an electronic system that enables the school to track phone calls and texts. When a coach makes a phone call, Anderson explained, “the software loads the call into a system that has all the recruits’ phone numbers and it cross references. So, it will see if they’ve made too many calls to that phone number, or sent any text messages.”

Added Strawley: “We also do some cross-checking of that with human eyes.”

UM president Donna Shalala acknowledged Tuesday that no matter how good a compliance model is, it’s only as good as its best people.

“We’ve learned the best compliance system in the world can’t substitute for the good judgment of the personnel that you hire,” Shalala said. “People need to follow through on their instincts.”

Miami Herald sportswriters Manny Navarro, Linda Robertson and Michelle Kaufman contributed to this report.

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