Keeping Score

Why the University of Miami’s Football Program Is in Hot Water

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Back in 1995, Sports Illustrated published an damning article on the University of Miami’s football team. Going back to the 1980s, Hurricane players had a reputation for breaking the law, cheating in school, and ignoring NCAA rules. The school’s athletic leadership failed to curb the team’s rogue image.

The memorable cover line read: “Why The University of Miami Should Drop Football.” It’s time to fire up the presses again on that one.

According to a Yahoo! Sports investigation that’s breathtaking in its scope and incriminating in its results, Nevin Shapiro, a former Miami booster serving a 20-year prison sentence for his role in a $930 million Ponzi scheme, provided impermissible benefits to 72 of the university’s football players, including NFL players Vince Wilfork, Devin Hester, and Kellen Winslow Jr., and other athletes between 2002 and 2010. That’s right, 72 athletes.

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And we’re not talking about meal money here. “At a cost that Shapiro estimates in the millions of dollars,” the report says, “he said his 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.”

To absorb all the salacious and stunning details, the story is well-worth a long read. Click on the individual pages that outline the allegations against each player, and audio of Shapiro’s interviews. It’s multi-media, investigative journalism at its finest.

The visual evidence is particularly embarrassing for the University. In one photo, three shirtless University of Miami players, including Winslow Jr., are seen hanging out on Shapiro’s yacht. This image will immediately come to symbolize 21st-century college athletics cheating, much like the infamous UNLV “hot-tub” photo did for the prior one.

In another photo, University president, and former Bill Clinton cabinet member, Donna Shalala is seen at a bowling alley, admiring a $50,000 check from Ponzi-schemer Shapiro, which he donated to the University’s basketball program. How did Shalala, who has boasted about her ability to police Miami’s program, or the school’s athletic leadership not realize what was going on?

“When Shapiro made his allegations nearly a year ago, he and his attorneys refused to provide any facts to the university,” a Miami official told Yahoo!. “We notified the NCAA enforcement officials of these allegations. We are fully cooperating with the NCAA and are conducting a joint investigation. We take these matters very seriously.”

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Normally, after investigations like these, there’s reason to defend the players against the hypocrisy of the NCAA’s rules. Reggie Bush took some money from an agent? Why shouldn’t he, given all the money his touchdowns were generating for the coaches and university suits? Ohio State players sold memorabilia for some cash? Well, if the players don’t get a cut of the Ohio State football stuff sold in the book store, why shouldn’t they reap their rewards from the tattoo-parlor owner who paid them?

But these Miami allegations, if they hold up, are too decadent to absolve the players. They involve regular trips to strip clubs, bounties for injuring opposing players, and prostitution. Yahoo! Sports investigative reporter Charles Robinson has an impressive track record: he broke the Bush story and helped break the news that Ohio State coach Jim Tressel had lied about his knowledge of his players’ violations (Tressel was eventually fired).

There don’t seem to be any good guys in this tale. And Miami football may never recover.

For the full investigation, head to Yahoo! Sports.

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