So Just Where is the NCAA Today: South Beach vs. Indianapolis

 

By now, every collegiate sports fan in America, and perhaps in the world, is aware of the decision by the NCAA to assess the University of Miami for a series of infractions a penalty which amounted to “time served,” as so many others have pointed out.

There is outrage, confusion, disgust, and now a loss of faith in the NCAA with their penalties to the Miami Hurricane program.

Let’s back up, though. The labyrinthine twists of events engineered by a “booster” of the Hurricanes’ programs in basketball and football, Nevin Shapiro, was compounded by Shapiro’s conviction for concocting a $930M Ponzi scheme and is now serving 20 years in Federal Prison.

Miami received a slap on the wrist over booster Nevin Shapiro's support of some football players at the university.

To add to the almost Shakespearean plot, the zealous NCAA “investigators” sought out Shapiro’s attorney, Maria Elena Perez, to ask questions in depositions, purportedly regarding bankruptcy, of witnesses who had refused to cooperate with the NCAA. The NCAA’s investigator who prompted this ruse, Julie Roe Lach, has since been fired by the NCAA, and Lach knew very well that witnesses could not refuse subpoenas in a Federal case to be deposed.

The subterfuge came in the form of specific questions to be asked of the witnesses which had nothing to do with the bankruptcy proceedings, but which directly affected the NCAA’s case against Miami and Shapiro. Hey, they didn’t even maneuver that kind of skullduggery on Law and Order.

And Perez billed the NCAA for something over $57,000, but the NCAA paid only $19,000 and change. How’s that for NCAA “integrity”?

To top this off, it was learned that the NCAA’s Associate Director of Enforcement, Rich Johanningmeier, had provided Shapiro with a pre-paid cell phone while Shapiro was in prison and provided him with more than $4,000 to add to his prison commissary account. All this, according to the NCAA’s own internal investigation released earlier this year.

The upshot of all this was that approximately 20% of the NCAA’s case had to be rejected. The fervor of the NCAA’s investigative staff became blind to basic rules of evidence and testimony.

What is more, the entire approach exposed the NCAA as an out-of-control monolith hiding behind its organizational regulations and compounded by its rather shadowy methods of investigations into allegations of wrong-doing. Constitutional protections have routinely been ignored because membership is “voluntary,” and the general order of the day is that the accused must prove their innocence, as opposed to being “innocent until proven guilty.”

So much for an American institution which, according to its own website, was established “in 1906 to protect young people from the dangerous and exploitive athletics practices of the time.”

We have come to view the NCAA s an institution which upholds integrity in collegiate athletics, protects college athletes from exploitation, and adheres to the highest standards of ethical demeanor in all its dealings.

That was the image before the Miami Case of Nevin Shapiro.

The penalties imposed, mostly by the University of Miami itself, received a rubber stamp imprimatur from the NCAA because of the institution’s “great cooperation” and “eagerness to resolve” this sordid mess.

Never mind that Miami’s President, Dr. Donna Shalala, was part of President Bill Clinton’s Administration as Secretary of Health and Human Services, or that her influence was widely felt across the spectrum of NCAA member institutions.

Never mind that the penalties assessed Ohio State in the wake of Coach Jim Tressel’s lying to the NCAA, or the penalties assessed Southern California in regard to Reggie Bush, or the penalties to Penn State in regard to Jerry Sandusky’s perversions seemed not to balance with the wrist slap Miami received.

There seems to be a systemic malfunction within the NCAA today and the Miami case has exposed it in all its raw machinations. To begin with, each case is considered “individually,” in a paraphrase of Britton Banowsky, Chair of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions. He further stated that, “We don’t do a great deal of comparative analysis.”

Well, that certainly clears it up! What then are “precedents” in NCAA “Case Law”? There must be some! The NCAA’s present Administrative Staff is loaded with lawyers and law school graduates, and their “investigators” are rife with retired FBI Agents. Hmmm…is there a sense that these folks are really out to “protect” college athletes? I leave that up to others to extrapolate, but I have my suspicions.

So just where is the NCAA today?

As I see it, the NCAA is a wounded triceratops, as ancient as the age from which it came. It has three, no four major divisions each with its own governing council. Consequently, it operates under three, no four, general philosophies of collegiate athletics. And this is at the heart of its difficulty.

Today, the NCAA appears to have as much public confidence as our Federal Congress and our present Administration in Washington, D.C.

Whether it recovers from this Miami debacle; whether it can withstand the onslaught by former and present athletes to claim some of the vast funding it receives through its licensing; whether it can withstand public, and possible Congressional, scrutiny in its present structural form remains a real mystery.

With so much riding on the NCAA’s ability to hold on to the reigns of television rights and licensing rights, and continue to stand for integrity, the balance does not look good for the present structure of the NCAA.

It has been this Miami Case, nevertheless, which will forever be a point at which historians of college athletics point when a new form of the NCAA, or another like organization, emerges. And I believe it will.

But it IS time…and as we all know, old institutions like change about as much as kids like taking cod liver oil…

Dr. Arthur Ogden, the Chair of Sports Management at the United States Sports Academy, can be reached at aogden@ussa.edu. Ogden has coached college football for 12 years, including as defensive coordinator at Auburn University, and served as a Director of Athletics at the collegiate level for 10 years. His doctoral dissertation on Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy of education won the coveted Dilley Award for Outstanding Dissertation of the Year in 1995.

 

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