Linda Robertson

Linda Robertson: UM stuck in limbo as school waits for Godot-like NCAA

Samuel Beckett’s masterpiece, Waiting for Godot, made its U.S. premiere at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in 1956.

Nearly 60 years later, a revival of sorts seems to be taking place in Coral Gables. The play has been modified and modernized — and lengthened. The title has been changed to Waiting for the NCAA. The setting has been changed from a country road, next to a tree, to the University of Miami campus, next to a football goalpost. UM president Donna Shalala takes the role of Vladimir and coach Al Golden is Estragon.

But many of the elements of Beckett’s tragicomedy in two acts remain the same. UM is playing a waiting game with the elusive NCAA.

In fact, the opening lines apply nicely to Shalala and Golden’s state of limbo:

Golden, sitting on a low mound, is trying to take off his boot. He pulls at it with both hands, panting. He gives up, exhausted, rests, tries again. As before. Enter Shalala.

Golden: Nothing to be done.

Shalala: I’m beginning to come around to that opinion. All my life I’ve tried to put it from me, saying Shalala, be reasonable, you haven’t yet tried everything. And I resumed the struggle.

The struggle, in UM’s case, has been going on for 2 1/2 years, ever since the NCAA began investigating the largesse of Nevin Shapiro, the very definition of jock-sniffing booster. Shapiro apparently conned the university, which considered him a legit donor, the same way he conned clients into investing in his $930 million Ponzi scheme. He entertained athletes on his yacht and at strip clubs and aspired to be a jet-set sports agent. Shapiro is now in prison and UM is paying for its association with him.

But exactly how much the football and basketball programs will be penalized and when is unknown.

Will Godot ever show, and if he does, what will he say or do?

An absurdist parable, then and now.

It has been 11 years since Shapiro first gave his gifts and two years since UM suspended players implicated as recipients of Shapiro’s “extra benefits.” It has been 20 months since UM self-imposed its first bowl ban (albeit after a 6-6 season) and nine months since UM sacrificed the Atlantic Coast Conference title game.

It has been one year since the NCAA realized its own investigators had engaged in unethical conduct with Shapiro’s lawyer, and certain findings had to be discarded, thus delaying the process by six months.

It has been seven months since the investigation concluded.

Estragon: I’m tired! Let’s go.

Vladimir: We can’t.

Estragon: Why not?

Vladimir: We’re waiting for Godot.

Estragon: Ah! What’ll we do, what’ll we do!

Vladimir: There’s nothing we can do.

Estragon: But I can’t go on like this.

Vladimir: Would you like a radish?

Estragon: Is that all there is?

We’re all awaiting our fate, one way or another. That is the existential struggle.

Waiting in vain

It has been 12 weeks since UM’s hearing in Indianapolis with the eight-person Committee on Infractions and still no verdict or sentence even though the NCAA said it would take six to eight weeks for a resolution. Golden expected the infractions report before practice began Aug. 6, or surely before the season opener Aug. 30.

Nothing yet. Maybe tomorrow? Is time crawling or sprinting? Or circling?

Vladimir (contemplating the tree): But yesterday evening it was all black and bare. And now it’s covered with leaves.

Estragon: Leaves?

Vladimir: In a single night.

Estragon: It must be the Spring.

Vladimir: But in a single night!

Estragon: I tell you we weren’t here yesterday. Another of your nightmares.

Vladimir: And where were we yesterday evening according to you?

Estragon: How would I know? In another compartment. There’s no lack of void.

Other schools have played this game with the NCAA. The University of North Carolina waited 41/2 agonizing months between hearing and report. Not even the U.S. Supreme Court deliberates that long.

“I have great empathy for the people at Miami because you just want to know, you just want to move forward,” said Steve Kirschner, UNC’s director of athletic communications. “We were careful to tell our constituents that there is no timeline. And now, three years after our case opened, we’re still dealing with the fallout.”

Vladimir: This is awful!

Estragon: Sing something.

Vladimir: No no! We could start all over again perhaps.

The NCAA, like Godot, is a contradictory puzzle of a character in the drama, an invisible force. It takes a person such as Jo Potuto, who has served on infraction committees, to shed light on the wait. She points out that members are scattered around the country, have fulltime jobs and take their NCAA responsibilities very seriously.

“It’s understandable the school living through this wants to get it over with,” said Potuto, a Nebraska law professor. “But the devil is in the details. There’s a ton of information to weigh and put in context. Drafts will circulate, and they have to go through the language line by line and talk it through before signing their names. It’s really a consequence of being thorough and careful and fair.”

Seeking answers

Estragon can’t blame his boots for the faults of his feet. Yet the waiting hurts. Like Beckett’s protagonists, Shalala and Golden stand by the goalpost seeking an answer. Or at least an ending.

Shalala as Vladimir: Well? Shall we go?

Golden as Estragon: Yes, let’s go.

(They do not move).