Cote: For Miami Hurricanes, NCAA ruling feels like independence day

Miami HeraldOctober 22, 2013 

— I don’t ask a lot, but I have one small request now that the University of Miami’s near-three-year NCAA nightmare is effectively over.

After Tuesday, may we never again think of or utter the words “Nevin Shapiro.” Please? May we place this sordid little chapter in UM athletic history in a lead safe, wrap that safe in padlocked chains, and drop it in the deepest, darkest ocean, so far offshore that the only bottom dwellers that might come across it are creatures science has not even discovered yet.

UM, its athletic department, its fans and especially coach Al Golden’s football program waited an awfully long time for Tuesday, and when it finally came it was as if a suffocating weight suddenly lifted.

It felt like independence day.

It feels like the Hurricanes are free again – finally – after almost three years accused, threatened, punished and left wondering what might come next.

The NCAA at last delivered the long-awaited verdict in its laborious, controversy-marred investigation of UM, and it was happily anticlimactic, the additional punishment sort of a punch on the arm more than a baseball bat to the head.

Don’t say UM got off easy, though.

One renegade booster, Shapiro, a few rules-breaking coaches and far too many Hurricanes athletes with their hands open to improper benefits damaged this university’s good name and cost it dearly.

Shapiro is now in federal prison on a Ponzi conviction, former men’s basketball coach Frank Haith and two former football assistants are elsewhere, and all of the wrong-doing athletes are gone, but those still here have been cleaning up their mess.

Golden, blindsided by all this when he arrived at UM from Temple, saw bowl games stripped from his team each of the past two seasons, self-imposed postseason bans that last year also included a spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.

UM football also ruled several players ineligible who had been involved with Shapiro and were here at the time.

Those self-imposed penalties must be included with what the NCAA added Tuesday: a reduction of nine more football scholarships and three in men’s basketball over the next three years, along with probation for that period. (Plus a five-game suspension for Haith, now at Missouri, and a two-year ban from college coaching for those two former football assistants and one former basketball assistant.)

UM athletic director Blake James said the school would not appeal Tuesday’s rulings, proof the university considers them reasonable. He called the scholarship reductions “in line with what I expected.” Another postseason ban in football would have been appealed. Instead, thankfully, a grueling UM chapter that James said has “worn on all of us” is concluded.

Miami was far from faultless and deserved sanctions. Letting Shapiro run amok for so many years displayed a classic lack of institutional control, and the involvement of at least three coaches made it worse. The complicated probe produced a 102-page report.

But the university did everything right after the fact, and the NCAA’s relative lenience in its Tuesday verdict properly reflected that.

The NCAA did so much wrong in this investigation, which was corrupted by internal wrongdoing that resulted in tossed-out evidence, an external review and a public apology from president Mark Emmert.

Tuesday, though, in its restraint, the NCAA got it right.

Committee on Infractions chairman Britton Banowsky on Tuesday called UM’s self-imposed penalties “severe and unprecedented” and said those actions weighed heavily with the committee. “A very big deal,” Banowsky called the volunteered two-year postseason ban.

Clearly, Miami was prudent to swallow its medicine when it did. Plainly, UM would still be facing postseason bans had it not had two already. Now, because of its preemptive actions, Golden’s 2013 Hurricanes – 6-0 and ranked No. 7 in the nation – are free to go as far this season as their talent will carry them.

Banowsky also called UM’s cooperation in the investigation “commendable,” another factor that worked toward Tuesday’s added sanctions being relatively minor.

So now the University of Miami may finally move on, having survived all of the punches and gotten past this at last.

As for the name of that booster at the center of it all … I think I’ve already forgotten his name.

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