Posted: 3:02 pm Monday, October 21st, 2013
By Matt Porter
CORAL GABLES — The wait is over. The NCAA is ready.
It has been 129 days since Miami went before the organization’s Committee on Infractions in Indianapolis. Tuesday will be the day UM is told its penalties related to the Nevin Shapiro scandal.
Monday, the NCAA sent a release stating it would announce sanction on Tuesday, four days before the Hurricanes (6-0, 2-0 ACC) will play Wake Forest at Sun Life Stadium.
The NCAA will release its report to the media at 10 a.m. A conference call with COI Chairman Britton Banowsky, the commissioner of Conference USA, will follow.
Coach Al Golden and Miami players had already spoken to the media before the news broke just after 2 p.m. Golden, along with UM coaches and players, regularly speak to the media at noon Tuesday.
Schools are informed of penalties before the media. The NCAA sends schools a large document outlining the case and the sanctions. What will be on that report? For months, UM sources contacted by the Post have expressed little idea.
Athletic Director Blake James has repeatedly said the school has cooperated fully with the investigation process.
Like ACC Commissioner John Swofford said at the ACC media days in July, James said he hoped for a resolution before Miami’s Aug. 30 season-opener against FAU. He didn’t know when it was coming, however.
“I know we’re one day closer,” he told The Post. “There’s no one happier than me when this process is done. Will I be disappointed if this plays out into the season? Yeah. Like everyone I’ll be happy to have this behind us. We’ll deal with it as we have in the past: We’ll wait for the next step and deal with it as it comes.”
Miami could be hit with scholarship reductions, recruiting restrictions, financial penalties and/or postseason bans. At least, a reduction in scholarships is expected.
Former players and coaches involved in the scandal could be banned from campus. Coaches who have moved onto other programs — all of them, since no current player or coach at UM has ties to the scandal — could get show-cause penalties, which would bar them from coaching in college for a certain amount of time.
Miami, which has self-imposed two consecutive bowl bans, became bowl-eligible with last week’s win over UNC. After being notified of penalties, a school has 15 days to submit an appeal. The appeals process could take several months, which could allow UM to participate in a bowl.
Former defensive lineman Olivier Vernon, one of eight then-current players suspended by UM after the scandal hit, said it’s “kind of ridiculous” a decision has taken this long, “but I guess that’s how the NCAA operates, so, you’ve got to let it take its course.”
“Hopefully it’s not so severe,” said Vernon, now with the Miami Dolphins. “Hopefully just take a few scholarships out, but the school has done so much already to avoid a harsh penalty by punishing themselves, so hopefully it’s not too bad.”
After the news broke in Aug. 2011, Golden expressed his disappointment, saying he never knew about the NCAA investigation when he was hired in Dec. 2010. Former Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst and current basketball coach Jim Larranaga have also stated they took jobs at UM without knowing about the case.
“I think you can see it in my face,” Golden said. “It’s hard for me to stand up here and defend something that happened, three, four, six years ago.”
Now 30 games into his Miami tenure, Golden has not coached a game without a cloud of uncertainty over his program. That day in Aug. 2011, he said his past experience — turning around a doormat Temple program — helped prepare him. Temple had gone 26 years without playing in a bowl game, lost 12 games in a row and was voted out of the Big East for lack of support.
“We stood in there and we fixed it,” he said.
Golden has repeatedly referenced the “adversity” his program has faced in light of the sanctions. He has battled that on the recruiting trail, where opposing coaches could use the uncertain penalties as a strike against Miami. Despite that, UM signed some highly rated recruiting classes. Rivals.com rated the Hurricanes’ recruiting class ninth-best in 2012, 20th in 2013 and fifth-best for 2014.
“We’ve had kids come and go like kids come and go from programs every year,” Golden said at the ACC media days in July. “But we’ve had not one kid walk into my office with his family and say I’m leaving ‘because I don’t know what the future is with the NCAA. It’s too tenuous, I want out.’”
In addition, Miami is off to its best start since 2004. The Hurricanes were ranked No. 7 in both the initial BCS standings released Sunday and the Associated Press top 25. They are expected to contend for an ACC title, which would be their first since joining the league in 2004.
“We don’t really concern ourselves with things that we can’t control, such as the investigation and what people are saying,” Hurricanes sophomore Duke Johnson said Monday. “We just come in and work hard every day.”
The impending decision brings closure to what may be best described as a long, strange trip of an investigation.
It began in March, 2011, months before Yahoo! Sports released a report that detailed the alleged misdeeds of former booster Shapiro, who said he provided thousands of impermissible benefits to at least 72 UM athletes from 2002 to 2010.
Shapiro, currently serving a 20-year federal sentence for running a $930 million Ponzi scheme, allegedly broke NCAA rules for eight years under the noses of Miami’s administration, including President Donna Shalala, several former athletic directors and seven ex-football and basketball coaches, some of whom allegedly participated directly in his activities.
“At a cost that Shapiro estimates in the millions of dollars, he said his benefits to athletes included but were not limited to cash, prostitutes, entertainment in his multimillion-dollar homes and yacht, paid trips to high-end restaurants and nightclubs, jewelry, bounties for on-field play (including bounties for injuring opposing players), travel and, on one occasion, an abortion,” Yahoo!’s report read.
In Aug. 2011, eight UM players — Vernon, Aravious Armstrong, Marcus Forston, Sean Spence, Adewale Ojomo, Dyron Dye, Travis Benjamin and Jacory Harris — were suspended for at least a game. Vernon, whose $1,200 repayment and six-game suspension was the harshest of the penalties, now plays for the Dolphins. Dye, the last remaining player with a direct connection to the case, was a redshirt senior when he was dismissed from the team last month.
Hoping to lessen penalties, Miami self-imposed a two-year postseason ban, which last season cost the program what would have been its first ACC Coastal title. UM also reduced the number of scholarships it offered to recruits, the number of official visits it allowed recruits to take and the amount of times it contacted and evaluated recruits.
Miami grew bolder once the NCAA’s missteps came to light.
In February 2013, an external review of the NCAA’s investigation found it made serious ethical errors in the case, including paying Shapiro’s personal lawyer, Maria Elena Perez, to depose witnesses and collect information on the NCAA’s behalf. The NCAA fired its vice president of enforcement, Julie Roe Lach, and threw out a chunk of its findings. President Mark Emmert called the episode an “embarrassment.”
The NCAA sent its notice of allegations to Miami later that month, dropping the dreaded “lack of institutional control” that led to the cancellation of Southern Methodist’s football program. Shalala fired back at the NCAA, criticizing it for trusting the word of a “convicted con man” like Shapiro and calling for the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions to dismiss its case because of “unprofessional and unethical behavior.”
In April, Interim VP of Enforcement Jonathan F. Duncan responded with a denial that charged Miami with “grasping at straws” by attacking the motives and competence of its investigators.
In June, Shalala accompanied Golden, James and basketball coach Jim Larranaga to UM’s hearing with the NCAA in Indianapolis.
And then, silence from Indianapolis.