The NCAA, the arbiter of what is right and wrong in college sports, has announced that former members of its enforcement team were involved in improper conduct during its investigation into the Miami athletic department and allegations of improper benefits from booster Nevin Shapiro. That conduct may compromise the investigation.
Hear that? It's the sound of high fives from Miami. No, wait. It's raucous laughter from Penn State. Or is that coming from USC? Or Jerry Tarkanian's house? Actually, it might be from Ohio State or North Carolina. Hard to tell. Could be from a lot of places, really.
The NCAA announced the staff members "worked with the criminal defense attorney for Nevin Shapiro to improperly obtain information for the purposes of the NCAA investigation through a bankruptcy proceeding that did not involve the NCAA." Through that proceeding, the NCAA gathered information it would not have been able to get otherwise.
The NCAA didn't name the attorney, but the Associated Press and Miami Herald said Maria Elena Perez has been representing Shapiro. According to the AP, Perez deposed former Miami equipment-room staffer Sean Allen, a key figure in the investigation, as part of the bankruptcy proceedings in question. The NCAA doesn't have subpoena power in its investigations, but can't compel testimony outside of its enforcement staff's procedures.
The NCAA said it will not move forward with the notice of allegations to Miami until an external review of the enforcement program is finished.
What a mess for the NCAA, which has a serious problem now. The Miami case has been such a high profile one, since Yahoo! Sports' report uncovering years of improper benefits. And now the fairness of the investigation seems irreparably compromised.
This is one of the NCAA's more embarrassing moments.
"I have been vocal in the past regarding the need for integrity by NCAA member schools, athletics administrators, coaches, and student-athletes,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said. "That same commitment to integrity applies to all of us in the NCAA national office."
University of Miami president Donna Shalala put out a statement, via the Miami Herald:
“Since the University first alerted the NCAA to the possibility of violations more than two years ago, we have been cooperative and compliant with the NCAA and, I believe, a model for how institutions should partner with NCAA staff during investigations. In addition to encouraging current and former staff members and student-athletes to cooperate with investigators, we have provided thousands of documents to the enforcement staff.
“I am frustrated, disappointed and concerned by President Emmert’s announcement today that the integrity of the investigation may have been compromised by the NCAA staff.
“As we have done since the beginning, we will continue to work with the NCAA and now with their outside investigator hoping for a swift resolution of the investigation and our case.
“I want to thank our community for their continued support and patience. Stand with the U.”
Emmert told the Herald it was "premature" to think this could be considered a mistrial that helps Miami, but said the NCAA will determine what information was conducted through improper means and throw it out. That will only go so far. The NCAA can't un-see the information it was given through improper channels. Miami would have serious complaints, at the very least, over any punishment that is handed down now from the NCAA. The NCAA, which the Herald said found out about the improper methods because investigators turned in receipts for legal work by the attorney, will have a difficult time proving that the information used to hand down any penalties was not gained improperly, and that no information gained improperly was used to influence its decision.
Not that many people liked the NCAA before this mess, and its reputation won't be helped by this fiasco.
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