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Frank Haith’s wrist slap of a suspension is far too lenient given his rules violations

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Missouri coach Frank Haith (Getty Images)

At some point Tuesday, former Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl will surely read the section of the 102-page infractions report outlining the violations the NCAA believes Frank Haith committed while at the University of Miami.

It's probably safe to assume Pearl isn't going to like what he reads.

Pearl was fired from his job at Tennessee in 2011 and received a three-year show-cause penalty from the NCAA for lying to investigators about having a recruit attend a barbecue at his Knoxville home. Haith will sit for just the first five games of Missouri's 2013-14 season even though the list of violations  the NCAA "factually concluded" he committed include authorizing a payment to a recruit, paying off a booster to stay quiet and attempting to cover up the violation when investigators began asking questions.

In the initial Yahoo Sports story that prompted the NCAA's investigation into the Miami football and basketball programs, booster Nevin Shapiro alleged that Haith was aware of a $10,000 payment made to then-Miami recruit DeQuan Jones in 2008. Shapiro later allegedly tried to blackmail Haith by threatening to go public about the payment as well as a visit to a Miami strip club the two had taken together.

What the NCAA uncovered in support of Shapiro's accusations is evidence that Haith helped funnel nearly $10,000 worth of hush money to the booster. Bank records obtained by NCAA investigators show Haith gave each of his three assistant coaches a $3,200 summer camp advance about the same time as Shapiro's threats began.

One of Haith's ex-assistants admitted to the NCAA he arranged for a payment to Shapiro's mother but insisted the envelope of cash contained only the $3,200 camp advance he received that day and $1,800 of his own money. The assistant also claimed the money was to keep Shapiro quiet about the strip club visit and had nothing to do with any potential recruiting violations.

The other two assistants admitted to receiving $3,200 cash advances from Haith on the same day but had explanations that the NCAA deemed not credible. One said he needed the money for his child's school tuition even though that was not paid for another 47 days and the other claimed he needed precisely that sum to have his air conditioning unit repaired.

"The fact's surrounding the timing of the camp advance checks are more than a coincidence," the NCAA infractions report reads. "First, the former head men's basketball coach went beyond his normal practice: He wrote a camp advance check for each coach in the amount of $3,200 and paid a camp advance to his coaches before camp started. Each former assistant coach cashed his check on the same day and at the same bank branch.

"Taken together, the camp advance checks totaled $9,600. The information supports a factual conclusion that former assistant men's basketball coach A collected $3,200 from each of the other two coaches once they cashed their camp advance checks. Former assistant men's basketball coach A then added cash that he had at home for the full payment to the booster.

"The former head men's basketball coach did not write the camp advance checks to all three assistant coaches for the sake of parity. The committee makes a factual conclusion that the former head men's basketball coach and former assistant men's basketball coach A worked together to ensure that the booster received a large cash payment and that this payment would end the booster's threats."

In a Sept 5, 2012 interview with NCAA investigators, Haith admitted that he knew the money was being paid to Shapiro to keep him quiet and that one of his former assistants had requested a specific sum. Haith later requested another interview three weeks later and contradicted those prior statements, insisting that he didn't learn about the payment until the night before the Yahoo Sports investigation was released in 2011.

The only reason the former head men's basketball coach came forward and requested a third interview on September 25 was he realized earlier that, by telling the truth during the September 5 interview, he had implicated not only himself, but also former assistant men's basketball coach A, in a scheme to cover up NCAA violations," the infractions report reads. "The committee finds the former head men's basketball coach's September 25 version of events and his explanation (or lack thereof) for the significant changes in his statements of facts not persuasive."

Based on those passages of the infractions report, it's clear the NCAA believes its evidence suggests Haith knew about a $10,000 payment to a recruit, attempted to pay off a booster to keep him quiet, failed to come clean to investigators and then arranged a third interview to attempt to fix his botched cover-up. The only question that remains then is why the NCAA determined Haith's punishment should only be a five-game suspension?

For the NCAA's rules to mean anything, its penalties for rule breakers have to have teeth. Haith will sit out games against Southeastern Louisiana, Southern Illinois, Hawaii, Gardner Webb and IUPUI, not exactly a devastating penalty considering Missouri could beat those teams without a coach.

How did Haith avoid a stricter penalty? Why was Pearl's punishment so much harsher when his violations were so much less severe?

Somewhere in Knoxville, Pearl is probably wondering the answer to those same questions.

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