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Miami Suspension Watch, Round 1: Eight ‘Canes on ice, and counting

The question was never "if," but "when": The moment the sprawling accusations by ex-Miami booster turned convicted Ponzi-schemer Nevin Shapiro hit the web last week, the sands began to fall on the eligibility of the dozen current 'Cane players fingered for allegedly accepting improper benefits. For most of them, according to the Miami Herald, their time appears to be up:

The University of Miami has declared eight student-athletes — all believed to be football players — ineligible and has asked the NCAA to initiate the reinstatement process, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation.

Quarterback Jacory Harris is one of the ineligible athletes, the source said.
[…]
In order for UM to ensure that those deemed ineligible have a chance to play Sept. 5 in the opener at Maryland without risking severe penalties by the NCAA, UM had to declare them ineligible. The NCAA will now review each player's case and either reinstate them — every case is handled individually — or rule how many games they have to sit out.

Miami Suspension Watch, Round 1: Eight ‘Canes on ice, and countingBased on Shapiro's statements and corroborating witnesses, Yahoo! Sports' report named a dozen current 'Canes as beneficiaries of Shapiro's largess, including Harris, his leading returning receiver and seven returning starters on defense, two of whom were preseason All-ACC picks by conference media types. The complete list (click on a player's name for specifics of their involvement): Safety Ray-Ray Armstrong, wide receiver Travis Benjamin, defensive end Dyron Dye, defensive tackle Marcus Fortson, quarterback Jacory Harris (right), wide receiver Aldarius Johnson, cornerback JoJo Nicolas, defensive end Adewale Ojomo, linebacker Sean Spence (top), safety Vaughn Telemaque and defensive end Olivier Vernon.

It's not entirely certain at this point which eight of that dozen (aside from Jacory Harris) have been declared ineligible. Four of them were spared the ruling because their alleged bounty totaled less than $100, typically a small enough sum that they'll simply be asked to pay the money back to charity; the identities of those four can probably be discerned easily enough by combing through the details of their alleged violations, but I wouldn't want to guess.

So: What now? Now they play the waiting game. The move is essentially a temporary, pro forma step to ward off a harsher reaction if the NCAA decides to rule the players ineligible later on; if Miami actually put any of them on the field with known issues — even if Miami somehow determined they were eligible, or should have been — the consequences would be much worse. The release of the first preseason depth chart has been delayed indefinitely.

When North Carolina was forced to rule a dozen players ineligible under the same circumstances before last year's season opener against LSU, it eventually got six players back by midseason, sat four players for the entire season and had three declared permanently ineligible — seven starters in all who never set foot on the field. The Tar Heels never really recovered, and wound up notching just two of their eight wins on the year (over East Carolina and Florida State, an upset as a 10-point underdog) over teams that finished the season with a winning record. Recent improper benefits cases at Georgia, Alabama and Ohio State have netted four-game, two-game and five-game suspensions, respectively.

In the short term, the schedule gives Miami two breaks in getting the ineligible players back before it gets steep in mid-September: One, the 'Canes have two extra days on the rest of the country before the season opener at Maryland on Labor Day, Sept. 5, which is two extra days for exiled players to be cleared; and two, they follow that with a bye week the following Saturday. That leaves a little over three full weeks between today and a Sept. 17 visit from Ohio State, the first of a six-week stretch that includes dates with Kansas State, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Georgia Tech. If at least a few of the "Shapiro 12" aren't back in the fold by the time the Buckeyes come to town, you know it's going to be a very, very long year.

In the long term, well, there's always prayer. But where potential NCAA sanctions are concerned, the fate of a dozen players in the 2011 season and the eventual fate of the program at large are entirely separate questions.

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Matt Hinton is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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