When the news broke this week of the booster scandal at the University of Miami, the first person I turned to for insight was my Philly.com colleague Matt Mullin. You all know him as the author of Fantasy Island, our fantasy sports blog; I know him as a Miami alumnus who remains a fan of the Hurricanes and the teams here in his native Philadelphia.
Matt asked me if he could write a guest post on here about the events that have rocked Coral Gables and the nation this week. I was happy to turn this space over to him. - J.T.
I'll admit it. I am the first one to spread the love when it comes to all things University of Miami. I graduated from there in 2009, after four of the best years of my life. The football program, one I despised as a youth, has become the proverbial apple of my eye.
Add Al Golden. Sprinkle in some top-ranked recruits. Stir with Art Kehoe. The University of Miami was on the verge of adding title number six to their impressive resume.
That was until Nevin Shapiro snitched in a way that would make Henry Hill proud.
All the promise that was the Canes' 2011 offseason turned quickly this week from the sweet concoction created above into bitter, sour, and gut-wrenching despair.
Shapiro decided to play the Robert Ford to Miami's Jesse James, shooting the program he once offered to pay $2 million a year to coach, right in the back.
His reason: He felt betrayed when Miami and the former players he dealt with didn't come to his defense. Did he really think the University of Miami and its former athletes were going to help him when he got busted for a $930 million Ponzi scheme?
That would essentially be an admission of guilt on Miami's part. He must have skipped that chapter in his Shady Business Ethics textbook. You know, the one about being on your own if you get caught.
I can't say with certainty who knew what, and how deep knowledge of Shapiro's involvement with the University ran. I can, however, tell you that Shapiro is not the only one in the wrong.
From the top down, this kind of activity can spread like a plague. No matter how many times student-athletes are told how to behave, if the coaches and administration choose to look away (or worse, encourage it) the athletes will continue to do as they please.
A good friend of mine, who doesn't want her real name used (we'll call her Jenny), spent the 2008-2009 school year as a tutor for student-athletes. Before she could start, Jenny spent hours taking classes mandated by the NCAA on how to treat the student-athletes.
For example, Jenny and the other tutors weren't even allowed to give the players a pen. According to the rules, that could be considered an illegal gift, and thus an NCAA violation.
Furthermore, she was told to report any possible violations she witnessed.
During that year, right in the heart of the time period the NCAA is investigating, Jenny was tutoring a member of the football team. During one of their sessions, he came in with a brand-new Miami varsity letter jacket and magically turned it into a wad of cash.
Too bad magician's never reveal their secrets, because that would be one hell of a party trick.
Sure, they were cool in the 90's, but heavy jackets don't serve much purpose in South Florida. This jacket, which is exclusive to the athletes, and not found in the bookstore, clearly served a purpose to somebody. Here is how Jenny recalls the event:
"I was sitting in on a tutoring session with [name retracted] and in the middle of the session, he got a text. [He] asked if he could step out for a second. Then he picked up a duffle bag off the floor, walked out of the Hecht Athletic Center, and returned a few minutes later with a visibly empty bag. I asked him where he was, and he said that he sold one of his Miami letter jackets for cash and concert tickets. I didn't want to ruin his college career by turning him in, but I did tell him never to do it again. And if I saw it, I would say something."
(I can't blame Jenny for not saying anything. Athletes can be intimidating, and at least she had the guts to tell him he was in the wrong, something he likely wasn't told very often.)
Apparently he didn't think much of it, if he blurted out what he had done in the middle of the same building that houses the offices of all the varsity coaches, the SID's and all the athletic directors. If he wasn't worried then, why would he ever worry.
Furthermore, he said it to someone who was sworn to turn in any player who possibly violated NCAA rules. It's sad to say, but it appears that it was just a part of the culture at Miami.
These things happened. I am not here to debate that.
The players, in their greediness, were guilty. The coaches, in their willingness or ignorance, were guilty. The administration members, in their inability to rid the program of such behavior, were guilty.
Those who are guilty must be punished. I'm as big a Miami fan as any former student, but that doesn't mean I think the guilty parties should get off the hook.
However, that is exactly what could happen. Sure, Miami will face sanctions, but the players who have gone on to the NFL will get nothing more than some bad PR. (As far as the bankruptcy lawyers coming after players who received gifts in an attempt to recover their losses, that's a different story).
Some of the coaches involved that are now at other schools could feel the ramifications, but not nearly to extent they should.
It is the students, both past and present, that are the real victims of a crime in which they simply had no chance of stopping.
Sure, you can argue that they were guilty because they got to enjoy those five titles in 18 seasons. However, I attended Miami from 2005-2009. In that time, our football team was 27-20, with no major bowl appearances.
I'm not guilty of a crime. I'm not deserving of punishment. Yet, that is exactly what will come of this situation.
Likely sanctions against Miami include a ban from bowl games, suspensions of current players, and that's if they get lucky. Where it really hurts is in recruiting, and that trickle down effect could set Miami football back to the stone age. Al Golden may have been better staying at Temple.
Why not attack them financially? Take scholarships away from players. Fine coaches. Suspend them without pay.
But don't punish the ever-growing population of Canes - past, present, and future - that bleed green and orange because of the greed, negligence, and egotistical behavior of those we can not control.
Punish the guilty. Don't forget that an institution is more than the just the colors on their jersey. Take action against the the guilty, but spare us. Allow us to enjoy football, just without the people that have tarnished our reputation.
And as for Nevin Shaprio? He'll get his punishment. Here's hoping he spends the next 25 years of his life growing old with an angry, 300-pound cellmate who happens to be a fan of the U.