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My Oh Miami

August 20, 2011 - Al Stephenson
My wife got the sports section first. She glanced at the headline and read the first couple of paragraphs of the story about a booster supplying illegal benefits to Miami Hurricane football and basketball players. She then looked at me and asked this question. "Do you think this will take the heat off of Ohio State?"

I suggested that it probably would not. Then I read the article.

If I was shocked by Jim Tressel's fall at Ohio State, I was stunned by what reportedly happened in Miami. If college Presidents could get together with NCAA officials to talk about change in the wake of Tatoogate at OSU, what must they be thinking now? Selling personal items and getting a discount on tattoos seems pretty petty in light of the accuasations concerning Miami booster Nevin Shapiro. If just some of the allegations are true, then college football is totally out of control and something must be done - soon!

What makes this story different (besides the benefits themselves) is that Shapiro ratted on himself. Shapiro is in prison as a convicted Ponzi schemer. He used some of the Ponzi money to "take care of" some 72 current and former Hurricane football and basketball players for several years. According to Shapiro much of what he did was with the knowledge of, and in some cases direct participation of certain Miami coaches.

As for the benefits, well hang on to your hat. Cash was given to players for meals, jewelry, etc. (No biggie here, probably happens at every major university in the country, right?) Strip club parties for players (and coaches?) were paid for by Shapiro. (What the heck?) Prostitutes were provided to players, sometimes on Shapiro's yacht. (Are you kidding me?) Shapiro claims he paid for an abortion for the girlfriend of a player. (OH MY GOD!)

Stunning is the only word that I can think of. Does it make Miami worse than OSU? Worse that USC? Worse than SMU? Worse than any other institution of higher learning that has been under NCAA investigation in the last century? Not necessarily.

For years most people were aware of abuses going on in college sports. When I was in Jacksonville, Florida on a college baseball trip in 1969 or 70 I saw a car on the JU campus that was beautiful. It was a red Chevrolet convertible with the drivers seat pushed back into the rear seat. The front license plate read Artis Gilmore JU. I'm guessing the 7 foot plus basketball player had that vehicle provided to him. That's what we guessed anyway and that is what we have assumed ever since. Some illegal benefits are taking place. As long as everyone else is doing the same thing and our team is successful, we turn the blind eye.

At some point we decide the excesses are too much. The NCAA comes in and slaps our collective wrists and life goes on. Until it becomes too big again. Southern Methodist got the death penalty when the NCAA realized they were totally out of control with boosters throwing money at players and rumor had it that even the Governor of Texas was in on things. Gasp said the NCAA and then told SMU your football program is gone.

So what about the two situations here. I just can't support Jim Tressel even though I think he is basically a good person. When he found out about the Tatoo Five his contract said he must report the info to his superiors. He chose not to. Would he have, had the five players been second or third teamers instead of the stud QB, the top RB, one of the best WR, etc.? You can draw your own conclusions. He chose his path and he paid the price (at least from a legacy standpoint as the forced resignation was changed to retirement and a large cash bonus was added to the "firing" package).

Miami's situation is a little different. If it can be proven that any coaches were in on the "party", then they need to be punished. If athletic department officials, or school higher-ups were involved, then lack of institutional control is "on the table." There is another party in this situation that should be considered culpable. These players are young, but adults. They know the difference between right and wrong. You don't have to accept the services of a prostitute. You do not have to take money when it is offered and you know it is a violation of the rules. Many student-athletes do just that and many of them are very poor! If you make bad decisions there should be consequences. If those consequences hurt the overall team - so be it. Looking the other way when wrongdoing takes place to insure that your team wins has to come to an end. Doesn't it?

The view from my seat suggests that it would be wrong to discredit Nevin Shapiro and suggest that he is a rogue booster whose claims are not true simply because he is a convicted felon. There has been enough corroboration to his statements that much of what he claims seems to be true. How the NCAA will deal with this remains to be seen. We will have to wait to see how much can be proven.

As for change I would suggest that paying college athletes is NOT the way to go. Giving them money would only enable them to pay for their own prostitutes (yes, I know most would put it to good use), get a tatoo, bling or whatever. To me this would be the equivalent of going down to Skid Row and handing out bottles of wine.

There's help and there's not helping at all.


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