The NCAA, in years and years of fashioning its own dubious reputation, has proved it can be harshly punitive, weirdly persnickety, frustratingly arduous and illogically inconsistent.
Now college sports’ monolithic governing body has a chance to show itself as something else entirely.
It has a chance to be reasonable.
It has a chance to be fair.
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Tuesday at long last will end more than 1,000 days of scrutiny of University of Miami athletics in the matter of former renegade-booster Nevin Shapiro, a probe that centered mostly on football and has cost that program the most.
Hallelujah for a resolution at last, but now hold your breath, because the NCAA Committee on Infractions — judge, jury and executioner — will do as it pleases in terms of additional sanctions, and predicting what those might be is impossible.
The feeling here is that Miami almost certainly will be hit with more penalties, in part because the NCAA must publicly justify the exceptional time and cost of this investigation.
There are so many reasons, though, why any additional penalties should be minor and should not include another postseason ban in football.
Coach Al Golden’s Hurricanes are 6-0 and ranked No. 7 in the initial Bowl Championship Series standings. They have made this a special season despite operating under the ongoing distraction and threat of sanctions that have hung over the program like a glistening guillotine for too long.
It would be a shame if the reward at the end of this season were taken away, and the shame would be the NCAA’s.
Golden walked blindsided into this investigation; he inherited it in coming here from Temple. Not a single player on the current team had anything to do with the improper benefits orchestrated by Shapiro.
What’s reasonable? What’s fair? This:
An NCAA decision Tuesday that reflects that Golden and his current players, all guiltless, should not be made to further suffer because since-departed players under former coaches and previous athletic administrators took handouts from a single lawless booster presently serving hard time on a Ponzi conviction.
If only to save face, I’d expect the NCAA to perhaps fine the university, curtail a few more scholarships, impose recruiting restrictions or assign the program to probation if it feels more punishment is necessary.
But do not take away the postseason reward this team is earning with the year it is having. That will be the Litmus test for whether the NCAA’s verdict can be seen as reasonable and fair, or should be viewed instead as piling on.
Miami could appeal a postseason ban and likely still compete in a bowl, but that would only elongate an already ponderous investigation and shift the threat of a ban into next season.
There are so many reasons while leniency, not vindictiveness, should now be the NCAA’s course.
We have already mentioned that today’s coaches and players knew nothing of Shapiro and should not be made to pay for others’ sins.
We have already alluded to the fact the central figure and accuser in all of this is a convicted liar and thief who probably should not rank among the most credible witnesses there ever was.
We might also note that UM president Donna Shalala has given full cooperation in this investigation with an emphasis on systematic changes in oversight so a rogue like Shapiro might never happen again.
Two other major points beg leniency in the final verdict.
One is that the NCAA’s probe was corrupted by internal scandal, one that brought firings on the investigative staff, a damning external review and a public admission of wrongdoing from NCAA president Mark Emmert.
Miami’s embarrassment over having a booster run amok did not compare to the embarrassment of the NCAA’s own buffoonery and rules-breaking.,
When the probe itself is both corrupted and relying on a convicted felon with an ax to grind as its main witness, it might be time to cut losses and acknowledge you may not have had the strongest case in the world.
Finally, UM already has endured extraordinary self-imposed penalties that have included postseason football bans the previous two years. Last season that knocked the Canes out of the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game, an honor they had earned on the field.
The NCAA on Tuesday should officially unshackle the Hurricanes from the threat of another such postseason ban.
This program has paid its price, and served its time.
This program — this team — has earned its freedom.