Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Is Anyone Clean in College Sports?

The system is broken.

Reggie Bush taking a house seems tame compared to what has been going on for the last decade at the University of Miami. Tyrell Pryor and teammates trading memorabilia for tattoos is a drop in the bucket for what may rain down on “The U” for what can only be described as a total, systematic, 100% failure on the part of the school to monitor what was going on within their athletic department.

Yesterday, Yahoo! Sports investigative journalist Charles Robinson blew the lid off of Miami’s decade-old dirty little secret in the single most damning set of NCAA violations we have ever seen.

In a nutshell, millionaire booster Nevin Shapiro lavished gifts ranging from cash, to jewelry, to cars, to prostitutes over the course of a 10-year span. For the full Yahoo! Sports report:

There are no such things as “isolated incidents” in college sports anymore. If there is one problem, you haven’t looked hard enough. There is no altruism anymore. There is no one out there who gives an impermissible benefit to be nice to a poor kid. If a “booster” gives a kid $1,000 or a new car, or anything else, it’s so that kid, once he becomes a pro, will remember that favor.

The schools are complicit in this because they choose to not investigate things they don’t want to investigate. Don’t insult my intelligence by contending that Miami administrators really didn’t know what was going on. All they had to do was open their eyes. Considering the history of the athletics department in Coral Gables, one would think that they would know a violation when they see one.

Just as Jim Tressel conveniently “forgot” he had a compliance officer in April 2010, the University of Miami did nothing when it was discovered that one of their most prolific boosters owned a stake in a sports agency. Miami buried its collective head in the sand so badly after Shapiro got into a drunken rage-filled fracas with the school’s athletics compliance director in the crowded press box during a game that they chose to sweep the entire matter under the rug.

Shapiro even says today that if school officials wanted to hire a private detective to look into whether or not players were receiving improper benefits, “it would have been the easiest job that guy ever had,” Shapiro told Yahoo’s Robinson. “It would have been over in five minutes. You would have had all the information you needed. Follow me to a nightclub or a strip club. Lunches. Dinners. The boat. Hotels for parties. All the outings at Lucky Strike. These guys were at my house. There was all kinds of (expletive) going on in. Gambling. Pool tournaments. Prostitution. Drinking.”

The irony is that former Miami athletic director Paul Dee (then in his role as the NCAA’s chairman of the NCAA’s infractions committee) was the one handing down the sanctions to USC a year ago, lecturing them about institutional control. Dee, in fact, appears to be one of the most corrupt administrators in college athletics history.

Not only did Dee oversee an athletics department that Nevin Shapiro lavished impermissible “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,” according to Yahoo’s Robinson, but he was also the school’s AD in 1995 when 80 students, 57 of whom were football players, falsified their Pell Grant applications, illegally securing more than $220,000 in federal grant money. Federal officials described the scam as “perhaps the largest centralized fraud ... ever committed in the history of the Pell Grant program.”

Remember, THIS is the guy the NCAA had chairing their enforcement committee! Don’t forget that this is the guy who famously told USC a year ago that “high-profile athletes demand high-profile compliance.”

Paul Dee never had any business anywhere near the NCAA Committee on Infractions unless he was on the other side of the room answering their questions.

The system is broken. There is no going back. There are too many incidents at too many schools to make sure everyone is clean. Does anyone truly run a clean program anymore? In the last year, we have seen public allegations or sanctions against:

  • USC
  • Ohio State
  • Miami
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • Florida
  • Alabama
  • Georgia Tech
  • Auburn
  • Oregon
  • Tennessee

Is there a way to clean up college athletics? Probably nothing any of the schools would consider, but as is the case with most things, money truly is the root of all evil.

My solutions:

  1. Ban all boosters. All of them. If you cut their access, yes, schools would lose millions of dollars annually. But most of those boosters aren’t simply giving money to their schools to improve facilities or help pay for scholarships, they are paying for access. Access to administrators, access to players…access. They want to be in charge. They want to have a say in who gets hired and who gets fired. Hey want their names on buildings, and they want to puff up their own egos. Ban them from campus. All of them. Every single last one.

  1. Miami, long since considered the most renegade of all college football programs dating back more than 20 years probably deserves the NCAA’s so-called Death Penalty. It’s the last resort for the NCAA in any matter, and it is a measure that hasn’t been used since SMU was banned from fielding a football team in the 1987-1988 seasons. No matter who has been at the helm, since the 1980’s it has been the single dirtiest program in college sports. It is harsh, no question. It’s also warranted.

  1. Schools must immediately stop selling merchandise that trade on a player’s name and/or likeness. If you are a student-athlete, how would you feel if your member institution was selling your jersey in the bookstore for $100 and you don’t get a cut of that? How would you feel if your likeness was in video games that are sold and everyone gets a cut but you? It’s no wonder that kids don’t think it’s wrong to take from the leeches around them…the schools are leeching off of them, too.

  1. If a school is caught cheating, rather than punish the kids that are on the team now, fine the school the amount of money they earned while participating in however many illegal games they played. Is it fair that USC kids today are paying for the sins of those that went before them? Matt Barkley was in middle school when Reggie Bush’s family was living in a free house. How is that fair and just? It’s not. But if you fine USC $13 million dollars from their BCS game take that season, they may have taken compliance a little more seriously (especially if there are no more boosters to bail them out of these messes).

  1. Just as scholarships are limited to 80, limit the number of games that are nationally televised. Why should Notre Dame get to have their entire home games televised? How is that creating a level playing field? How is Texas allowed to have its own network? Remember, these are college kids, not professional athletes.

Don’t hold your breath for any of these measures to be taken seriously by anyone in charge. University presidents long for athletics department revenues and prestige. Often times, the public persona of a school is directly related to how the football team does on Saturday. It’s a perverted relationship, but no one will ever admit it. Wins on Saturday means its more likely some rich alumnus will build you that building on the south end of campus. Bowl trips and national television exposure translate into new medical centers or law schools.

Even if the relationship isn’t a linear one, it does exist. And no one in charge wants that gravy train to stop – even if it means a return to amateur athleticism on their campus.

Even with these measures in place, collegiate athletics will still see allegedly poor kids with diamond-stud earrings, designer clothes, and new cars. At what point, however, will we as a sporting society finally wake up and raise a red flag when we see such things?

The final perpetrator of how college athletics became as corrupt as they are?

For all of us, that answer simply lies with a look in the mirror.

Nevin Shapiro and a second source said this photo of the booster and Kellen Winslow Jr. was taken in Shapiro’s VIP section of Opium Garden nightclub in 2003. (source: Yahoo! Sports)

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