Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Now This Is What A Scandal Looks Like

Does there ever come a point where the Board of Trustees at Ohio State slaps their collective heads and wish that they had perhaps waited for perspective to sink in just a big longer before deciding Jim Tressel had to go?

They wouldn’t have had to wait long and they might have come to a different conclusion.

Given the state of major college athletics today, which combines outdated rules with an almost unbridled money grab fostered by the university hierarchies and their media partners, it was inevitable that a new scandal would develop and envelop the sport in a way that would make what happened at Ohio State seem quaint by comparison.

Well that new scandal has happened, perhaps quicker than anticipated, and it’s a real shitstorm of a scandal that looks to have the University of Miami Hurricanes engulfed for years to come. If even a quarter of the allegations bear out (and the way they are backed up by hard evidence rather than innuendo suggests that will be a minimum) Miami may have to abandon its football program completely.

OK, the Miami scandal isn't an absolute shitstorm yet because ESPN hasn't declared it as such by oddly giving as much if not more attention to minor claims by former Buckeye Terrelle Pryor's lawyer that Pryor supposedly acknowledged in Mayhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif that he committed even more infractions then have been reported (since denied by OSU) then they have to a much more far reaching scandal in Miami.

Maybe that’s because ESPN can’t figure out how to report the Miami story without sending its viewers over to Yahoo Sports to read Charles Robinson’s incredibly well documented expose of about as wide ranging of problems in a college sports program that the NCAA has ever seen. Read the full report here

As Matt Yoder at AwfulAnnouncing.com said about the brewing controversy the “Miami case is OSU, GT, UNC and every scandal from the past year combined, multiplied by infinity, and exploded with a nuclear bomb.” He may have understated the case.

The Miami situation is so far over the top and beyond all bounds of what was even imaginable in this day and age and was apparently conducted in such an open and notorious manner that it truly does put exactly what went wrong at Ohio State in far better perspective. The Ohio State scandal, such as it was, actually involved just a handful of athletes involved with a small time criminal who offered them free tattoos in exchange for signing memorabilia. It was wrong, the players knew (or should have known) it was wrong, but plowed ahead anyway.

In terms of infractions, this hardly constituted the dirty bomb of a program that ESPN and Sports Illustrated tried to paint it as through the use of shadowy figures and unconfirmed allegations. And if that’s as far as the Ohio State story had gone, then we wouldn’t be talking about it much more.

But what set it apart were two factors. First, it was Ohio State. That apparently is a real line of demarcation for ESPN and Sports Illustrated because, frankly, the scandals at Boise State and Oregon, for example, are far more extensive in nature and far more greatly ignored by those two media outlets.

Second, the head coach lied about the problem. ESPN and Sports Illustrated, with no interest in perspective and no tolerance for explanation and because, it was Ohio State and not, say, the University of Connecticut basketball program, kept applying the pressure to the school’s board of trustees so intensely that they effectively gave them no choice but to issue Tressel the death penalty. See, problem solve?

Not so fast. There's no reason to rehash the Ohio State story except as to place it in contrast with the very next and far worse controversy that hit. According to Robinson’s reporting, the Miami scandal reaches to at least two athletic directors, several assistant head coaches and even, potentially some former head coaches, most or all of whom are now employed elsewhere in NCAA-sanctioned schools.

In a delicious bit of irony, one of the former athletic director’s involved, Paul Dee, also served as the chair of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions. According to a report in the Miami Herald, Dee said he expects to be interviewed. Indeed he will.

It won’t be a case where, if Robinson’s story holds together, Dee can simply say he didn’t know what was going on. Ground zero for the extensive allegations was a very prominent booster of the Hurricane’s program, Nevin Shapiro, a convicted criminal of far more major proportions than the hood at the center of the Buckeyes scandal. Shapiro is now serving time in federal prison for running a Ponzi scheme, the proceeds of which Shapiro claims he used to shower the Hurricanes’ programs and players with things like cash, gifts, prostitutes and anything else I suppose a young athlete’s heart may have desired.

The reason the Dee connection is important to this story is because of how hypocritical it can be for a self-policing agency like NCAA to actually self police. It will be almost impossible for Dee to credibly claim absolutely no knowledge about what Shapiro was doing on some level because Shapiro was such a prominent booster that the athletic department named an athlete’s lounge after him. And if that wasn’t enough, Shapiro had access to the press box and once got into a physical altercation with a member of the athletic department’s compliance group during a game while in that press box.

Meanwhile, flushed with that knowledge, Dee was overseeing punishment for other schools guilty of far lesser crimes. I know this: if I was the lawyer representing a school who was punished under Dee’s tenure as chairman of the NCAA’s infractions committee I’d immediately seek to have that punishment revoked on the basis of self-dealing and conflict of interest.

What’s so amazing about the Miami story is the sheer breadth of the allegations. It doesn’t just touch prominent former players like Kellen Winslow, Jr., but also current players like Jacory Harris. It includes in excess of 70 players in all as well as several recruits. It involves alleged payments to players by Shapiro for putting vicious hits on opponents like Tim Tebow. It involves allegations of hooking recruits up with prostitutes. It even involves Shapiro eventually buying into a sports agency and then funneling cash to Miami players in order to represent them after they graduated. That’s a pretty wide swath and I’m just getting started. You really owe it to yourself to read the story.

What’s also so amazing is the difference between the initial response by Miami and that by Ohio State for what amounts to a pimple of a scandal in comparison. Where Ohio State tried to get ahead of the story and took much criticism for it, Miami has basically stayed silent except for the perfunctory “we’re cooperating with the NCAA” press release and that they're taking this seriously.

Maybe Ohio State University president Gordon Gee and athletic director Gene Smith and even Tressel conducted what was surely a rushed and clumsy press conference, they at least said as much as they could at the scandal’s flashpoint. Sure, that gave the critics more to work with and perhaps increased the pressure on Gee and Smith to distance themselves from Tressel, but at least they stood up from the outset and took the heat.

Miami, meanwhile, seems to be in a state of shock fully unable to even utter a coherent word. In their press release they shamelessly tried to deflect attention away from Miami by saying that this was a marker for the need for fundamental change in college football. That's true to an extent, but they can't very well avoid blame by blaming the system they cultivated. Moreover they haven’t even begun to take action by at least suspending the current players named pending further investigation, a usual first step.

And of course, it’s worth noting again that ESPN seems dumbfounded by the whole darn thing. On its Tuesday late night edition of SportsCenter, which was filmed well after the story broke, ESPN actually had a the negative reference about Ohio State and Pryor on the air well before it even bothered to mention that there was some sort of kerfuffle going on in Miami. Thirty-five minutes into that edition of SportsCenter and the Miami story hadn’t even been mentioned.

There’s little doubt that the overhang on the Miami-Ohio State matchup in a few weeks will be significant. But where ESPN tried to manufacture a far bigger scandal than actually existed at Ohio State in order to push an agenda, the Miami scandal looks like it could actually push that sea level change that’s actually needed. It will be interesting to see which story ESPN gives more prominence to in the run up to that game.

There are significant problems in college sports and everything that allegedly was going on at Miami and at the level it supposedly was taking place underscores just about every possible misgiving people ever had about the state of the enterprise. But solving those problems will be almost impossible when media outlets like ESPN, like crack dealers, are actually helping foster those very problems by showering certain programs (like Texas) and conferences (like the SEC) with millions upon millions for preferred access.

When these schools and conferences take that money to line their own pockets they and their bloated budgets get addicted to it and find themselves suddenly unable to say no, let alone solve the problems that all that money creates. As for the lesser schools and conferences trying to get their own piece of the pie, the message is sent: similar deals await similar successes. That pushes those programs more toward the edges and further away from the mainstream. The circle of NCAA life.

Meanwhile the kids who make those programs go see all the money changing hand, money fostered by the moralizing half-witted hypocrites at ESPN, and wonder when they’re going to get their taste. When the NCAA tells them they're amateurs and shudders at the notion of sharing the wealth with them, that hardly quenches their thirst. They just go underground and hence it's just a matter of time until the next great scandal.

It would be nice to think that all of this would scare the NCAA and their members school straight but it won't. There's no 12-step program for any of them to get clean.

3 comments:

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Anonymous said...

First, GB, another thoughtful piece. I love those who deflect Miami's involvement by pointing out that a Ponzi-schemer, convicted criminal, etc., is involved with it. A broken watch is right twice a day. A convicted criminal may be a criminal but he/she doesn't necessarily lie all the time (and evidence can support or refute claims). I remember the Notre Dame-Miami games of the 80s and 90s. I have a "Catholics v. Convicts" T-shirt (which no longer fits, by the way). Rogue program is in Miami's blood. Death penalty deserved.

Second, you have some bozos posting comments not related to sports. Death penalty deserved here too.