Posted by: mdegeorge | August 17, 2011

Hurricane Shapiro threatening to level Miami programs

At its heart, the widespread NCAA violations alleged at the University of Miami center around one small, sad man.

Nevin Shapiro, the entrepreneur turned Ponzi schemer turned booster, is a pathetic tale. Suffusing the tales of prostitutes, night clubs and high-end restaurants is a shifty little crook, a 5-foot-5 modern-day Napoleon who thought he would conquer the world – and what probably are his many inadequacies – one high-powered football friend at a time. “Some of those players – a lot of those players – we used to say we were a family,” the diminutive transplanted Brooklynite admitted, saying he came forward only after reaching out to some of the myriad players he had pampered into the pros for help when he met his own financial demise for securities fraud and money laundering only to be rebuffed or outright ignored.

Beneath it all, Shapiro’s tale of lavishing gifts on athletes he pitifully idolized and desired to buy friendship from is no different than a narrative playing out at elementary schools and summer camps the nation over. The only difference is that instead of unquestionably handing over snacks at lunch or last night’s homework to the popular kids, Shapiro upped the ante and the value of the gifts substantially. The indiscretions range from the pathetic (letting players and hookers use his $1.6-million yacht as a brothel) to the atrocious (paying for a prostitute’s abortion after she alleged being impregnated by a player).

Consequentially, the NCAA should ramp up its punishments in kind. And unfortunately for the school, it could be more than just a brief timeout.

The violations revealed by the Yahoo Sports investigation far exceed anything else we’ve seen in the last year of violations tumult. Think the allegations against Cecil Newton were bad? Cam Newton was prosecuted in the court of public opinion for his father allegedly taking a payout to get his son to go to Auburn. That’s one payout, one player, one time. Try Shaprio’s dozens of player delivered to The U and payout to players delivered in the form of illegal benefits such as trips to strip clubs and prostitutes.

Or how about those groundbreaking revelations at Ohio State? Players getting tattoos and rounds of golf for free? Try hookers and booze while underage, multiply the number of players by ten, add cash payments and “bounties” like we’re in Slapshot and then you’ve got a real controversy, Buckeyes.

What then should the punishment be? There’s not much that can be done to Shapiro, who agreed to cooperate first with Yahoo investigator Charles Robinson while serving a 20-year sentence for a Ponzi scheme, reason enough for a judge to deem him worthy of dropping off a cliff. Hopefully, he gets to live every day with the revelation that he spent millions of his hard-stolen and defrauded money on people who won’t give him the time of day.

The players involved are long gone, their legacies firmly embedded in Hurricane lore and their bankbooks full with NFL money. It’s hard to exonerate the players; prostitution is prostitution, which I believe is illegal no matter where you come from, and the NCAA takes pains to educate them and all their fellow student athletes as to where the lines of acceptable conduct are (hint: several thousand drinks and about a dozen hookers ago).

At the same time, though, if a guy is offering you the perks of stardom, emotionally and monetarily drooling over your every accomplishment while paying others to do the same, how do you say no to that? This goes beyond the issue of compensating amateur athletes; it involves kids being literally given with no strings attached the lifestyle they yearned for growing up and hoped football’s fame would engender. So many of the kids at Miami came from poor, inner-city backgrounds. After years of having nothing but the basics then suddenly having everything given to you on a silver platter, can you really expect these players to say no or have the power to separate themselves from leeches like Shapiro?

The fault lies in the administration and the coaches – and yes, it’s coaches, plural, since Shapiro’s violations spread through the reigns of at least a half dozen football and basketball coaches, many more assistants and countless other support staff. Much like Ohio State, the administration had to know something fishy was going on, you know, after a half-decade. When you have assistant coaches out partying with boosters at clubs way beyond their pay grades, it’s a sign that the problems are systematic.

So the final verdict: Miami isn’t going to get the death penalty. The landscape is entirely different than when the University of Kentucky basketball program was shut down for 1952-53 or when Southern Methodist was blacked out in 1987 and 1988. The vacuum it would create in schedules, revenues and media attention would be astronomical, not to mention the legal acrimony that comes with the white-bread NCAA shutting down a predominantly black program in a fan base known for its ethnic diversity.

What should happen instead is sanctioning the program into a period of dormancy equivalent to the time in which its performance was boosted by players made comfortable by improper benefits galore. Trim scholarships, recruiting access, practice time. Ban the Hurricanes – basketball and football – from postseason participation for a decade. Dwindle their share of revenues from conference bowl games and Big Dance television contracts. Ban them from conference mobility during the probationary period. And make it known, like the NCAA did with Kelvin Sampson, that any program looking to hire or currently employing those implicated in this scandal that the scrutiny on them is being ratcheted up.

The storm clouds on the meaning of “amateur” and involvement of such detrimental third parties as the boneheaded Shapiro are gathering all over the county. The profile of Miami football and depth and breadth of the allegations could be the tipping point. The NCAA needs to send a message through Miami, one that says this type of criminal activity has no place in college sports.

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