Embarrassing gaffe by NCAA enforcement staff may help Frank Haith save his job

Jeff Eisenberg

The comeback victory Missouri pulled off Tuesday night against South Carolina pales in comparison to the one its embattled second-year coach may be on the verge of achieving.

Frank Haith has renewed hope of keeping his job just two days after it appeared to be in major jeopardy as a result of a CBSSports.com report that the NCAA was going to charge him with unethical conduct stemming from the Nevin Shapiro scandal at Miami. The former Hurricanes coach owes his potential reprieve to what the NCAA is calling "a very severe case of improper conduct" made by members of its enforcement staff when they investigated Miami.

The NCAA announced Wednesday that enforcement staffers obtained information for the case by working with the defense attorney for Shapiro, the Miami booster who revealed numerous NCAA violations allegedly committed by the school to Yahoo! Sports in 2011.

What that means is the NCAA had the lawyer of one of the key figures it was investigating on payroll because he had the ability to access information enforcement staffers cannot. Whereas the NCAA cannot force anyone to speak with investigators who doesn't want to, Shapiro's lawyer had the power to issue subpoenas and force key witnesses to testify under oath during Shapiro's bankruptcy proceedings.

If the dominant storyline to emerge from this embarrassing gaffe will be whether it leads the NCAA to overhaul its enforcement process, one of many sidebars will be how this blunder impacts Haith. It's unclear exactly how much of the evidence against him will have to be thrown out, but it's also safe to assume that the mere fact the NCAA has to throw out any of its findings can only be good news for him.

Prior to Wednesday's announcement, the CBSSports.com report led us to believe Haith would be charged with unethical conduct stemming from allegations that he instructed Shapiro to pay $10,000 to the family of former Miami player DeQuan Jones. The report indicated the NCAA could not prove that allegation to be true, yet it did not believe Haith's account to be truthful either.

Today's news doesn't mean Haith is any more likely to be innocent, yet it gives him a far greater chance to avoid serious punishment on a technicality.

Essentially Haith may turn out to be like someone police suspect of committing a crime as a result of evidence they obtained via unlawful search and seizure. They may believe he's guilty, but they can't use the evidence without violating rules and exposing themselves to a lawsuit.

Staying out of the NCAA's crosshairs via a technicality would be much better for Haith than a charge of unethical conduct, which could lead to a show cause penalty and massive recruiting restrictions that would make it difficult for Missouri not to show him the door.

We don't know for sure Haith will avoid that fate yet. It just seems a heck of a lot more likely than it did mere hours ago.