Hurricanes Become the New Eye of the College Football Storm

To say it has been a tumultuous offseason for college football would be an understatement.  Former booster Nevin Shapiro’s allegations of impropriety at the University of Miami make Jim Tressel’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” transgressions at Ohio State – which came to light earlier this spring – look rather pedestrian.  The Ponzi-scheming jail-bird, Shapiro, maintains that he has provided millions of dollars’ worth of financial benefits to at least 72 University of Miami student-athletes for nine years beginning in 2002.  The accusations against the Hurricanes come just one year after the University of Southern California Trojans were required to forfeit an entire year’s games, lost 30 football scholarships beginning in 2010, were forced to vacate its 2005 BCS National Championship and sustained a two year post season ban (2010 & 2010) as a consequence of illegal benefits lavished upon star tailback, Reggie Bush back in 2004.  If even 10% of what Shapiro says is true, Miami is in line to face stiffer penalties than USC.   However, the bottom line for the “Canes Nation is: will the NCAA Committee on Infractions determine that the actions of the university rise to the level of a willful violation and justify the recommendation the “death penalty” for The U?  It surely does not appear that University President, Donna Shalala can dodge exposure in light of the bowling alley photo that has surfaced of her, Shapiro and a check, so perhaps she needs to take one for the team so Miami’s football program can avoid being the new poster child for rules’ violations.

In 1987 Southern Methodist University was issued the harshest consequence that the NCAA could levy after it was confirmed that 13 players from the 1985 & 1986 Mustang team were paid a total of $61K from a booster’s slush fund with the full knowledge and approval of SMU athletic department staff and SMU Board of Governors Chair (and eventual Texas Governor) Bill Clements.  The NCAA canceled SMU’s 1987 season, restricted the 1988 season to away games only, banned SMU from bowl games until 1989 and eliminated 55 scholarships over four years.

In addition to the high profile matters involving the Hurricanes, the Buckeyes and of course Cecil Newton Jr’s. proposed sale of his son, Cam, to Mississippi State , this past year’s investigations regarding player pay-outs, recruiting violations, expenses to “scouting services” and informal agent relationships involving major college programs at Alabama, Auburn, Oregon, Michigan, Texas, UNC, LSU and Georgia Tech are just the beginning.  Mark Emmert who was appointed as CEO of the NCAA last fall, has his hands full, but unless he takes firm action, this cavalcade of indecorum may only be the tip of the iceberg.   If shady dealings are happening at all of these schools, who is to say it is not the norm, rather than the exception?  No matter what the intentions of the recruiters, local merchants, boosters or would-be agents, cash-strapped 17 to 21 year olds who have been heralded for their athletic prowess are going to be easy pickings.  And because many of these improprieties do not come to light until after the students graduate, future student-athletes within these programs will be the ones who suffer.  Sure, Reggie Bush lost his Heisman, but he is still playing in the NFL and he is still paid for what he can do on the field.

The NCAA has to do more than just the forfeiture of games and the reduction in scholarships.  Given the interconnectedness of schools in viewer-rich conferences, airplay bans will adversely impact the TV revenue of schools which have committed no wrongdoing.  Although such a ban might create more accountability among conference members, at this rate, the SEC would lose half of its teams to black-outs.  And again, these actions impact future students, coaches and leadership, not the ones who actually committed the infractions.  The scenario is not unlike our toothless United Nations.  Unless unified and comprehensive military action is invoked, all of the sanctions and public derision in the world do not change behavior.  It has been several years since the UN issued sanctions in North Korea and Iran, what is different?   In 1992, the UN invoked its initial set of sanctions against Libya.  It took 19 years for the regime to change, but it did not happen until the rhetoric ended and the airstrikes began.

Right now the reward for breaking the rules far outweighs the risk.  Just like Kim Jong Il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad thumb their respective snouts at the world’s cooperative assembly, so too will college football insiders continue to violate the rules and roll the dice with the NCAA.  Winning college football programs mean piles of money to the university, prestige for alumni and future individual professional deals.  And because the so-called “death penalty” is more like a 2 year sentence in juvie, there is no reason to not conduct business as usual with multi-layered pay-outs and an array of strawmen doing the bidding of the programs.  Unless the NCAA follows the money and levies more individualized and career-altering consequences, the days of college football as an amateur sport will draw to a close.

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