Miami scandal is symptom of NCAA flaws

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – It was freshman move-in day here on the sun-splashed campus of the University of Miami.

Kids unfolded maps looking for the proper residence hall. Parents pushed carts full of clothes, bedding and refrigerators. Housing workers pointed this way and that and tried to make everyone feel welcome.

A short walk away television trucks were lined up outside the Isadore Hecht Athletic Center, reporters doing live stand-ups to discuss a scandal complete with a Ponzi schemer, South Beach hooker parties and a stripper abortion.

The day should have been happy and hopeful here. Instead, it was humiliating.

Perhaps one day it'll be humiliating enough to shame the leaders of these universities to end the untenable charade of their current athletic model. It will take a lot, a lot more than Nevin Shapiro, the man behind the Ponzi scheme, the parties, the abortion and the biggest case of extra benefits in history. Guilty administrators got rich and comfortable on the backs of purported amateurs. The only cost was their self-respect.

"I am upset, disheartened and saddened by the recent allegations," school president Donna Shalala said in a statement Wednesday.

Those were her first words since the scandal broke, and they were as weak and worthless as they were late.

[Y! Sports probe: Miami booster spells out illicit benefits to players]

She was hiding somewhere on campus, hoping it would all blow away because that's what college leaders do. Better to craft a statement than hold a press conference and wind up looking like an E. Gordon Gee-level buffoon.

Shalala couldn't even be troubled to offer a concern or apology to her new football coach, Al Golden, or new basketball coach, Jim Larranaga, neither of whom ever met Shapiro but must deal with the fallout.

College athletics is killing itself whole, one hypocritical scandal at a time, yet any honest reform is almost impossible to envision. We're not talking about the too-little, too-late band-aids sprouting from last week's vaunted NCAA retreat, one that featured no less than Shalala.

The whole system needs to go. The whole concept needs to be redone.

The problem is that the same rulebook that causes so many of these humbling hangovers also makes so much cash for the people that write and supposedly enforce it.

Until the shame outbalances the revenue, what's the motivation to change?

Most of the thousands of violations Shapiro doled out were small stuff, the enormity of the scandal more the totality of it all and the seeming blind eye Miami turned.

[Video: Miami practices amid allegations]

Guys wanted to party on a yacht. Guys wanted to drink free in a VIP section of a nightclub. Guys wanted some cash, or a mansion to hang out in, or some extra money for a big hit, or maybe even the wildest of parties.

It's not abnormal behavior from 20-year-olds.

Except in the mind of the NCAA, which is so far backward, it's wasting time arguing over whether offering players a minor monthly stipend will cut too far into the adults' gravy train.

The truth is no one respects the rules of amateurism – not the players and certainly not the administrators. They don't embrace the austerity that should come from operating a system that, for tax-avoidance purposes, is hyped as just some extracurricular pursuit.

Know this about Nevin Shapiro: He rained down millions on Miami players during an eight-year spread, yet he didn't come close to the levels of gifts and graft that former Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker lavished on athletic directors, presidents and conference commissioners.

Shapiro took scores of players out on his $1.6 million yacht. It didn't cost nearly as much as the Orange Bowl spent in 2010 to provide 40 athletic directors and four conference commissioners (plus spouses) with a four-day Caribbean cruise.



Yahoo! Sports Radio: Luther Campbell on Miami scandal


Included in that junket? Then-Miami athletic director Kirby Hocutt.

College athletics is about getting your palm greased. And nobody has its hand out like the already well-paid folks running the show.

If a bowl director is willing to pay off an AD so his sweetheart contract stays intact, hey, that's business. If a player takes a fraction of the same thing, he's suspended.

If that's the deal, fine. Just don't be so surprised that the players and boosters look at the administrators' corruption and shrug off their own. Just stop thinking the student-athletes are too naïve to understand that everyone above them is being paid handsomely and will still beg and grab for every last quarter rolling down the street.

This isn't 1955 anymore.

You think Miami players were rushing to get to know Nevin Shapiro? You ought to see administrators on a Nike retreat or when a television network asks for a game to be swapped or someone projects that there's a couple extra bucks in conference mega-expansion.

Besides, the grown-ups leeched to Shapiro as hard and fast as the unpaid players. The promise of his donations overwhelmed any bit of restraint.

In 2001, Miami athletic director Paul Dee, who would later chair the NCAA's committee on infractions and dole out hypocritical punishments, oversaw a department that gave freshman Willis McGahee a mentor: Nevin Shapiro, convicted felon. (Shapiro pleaded guilty to felony assault in 1995; he's now serving a 20-year federal prison term for bilking investors in a $930 million Ponzi scheme.)

Then there was that now infamous picture of Shalala at a bowling alley eyeballing a check Shapiro had written for $50,000, the promise that thousands might one day turn to millions practically dancing above her head.

Miami photo gallery
Miami photo gallery

[Photo gallery: Miami booster parties with athletes]

The people running college athletics are desperate for money – for themselves and their salaries and their facilities, for their private planes and their comped cars and their golf-course memberships.

They want to avoid paying players and taxes as if they run a little league, then get paid and pampered like they run the NFL.

Everyone is chasing the cash. Everyone was chasing Nevin Shapiro.

Now the truth has come out. The old charade has been exposed again, a parade of players seeking an under-the-table handout from an out-of-control booster.

[Related: Sources: Former 'Canes coach warned team about Shapiro]

So here come the ugly headlines and the prepared statements and the wringing hands calling for another summit or retreat or task force to discuss not changing much of anything.

It should've been a perfect day at the U, all these bright-eyed teens and proud parents carrying boxes on the first day of the rest of their life. Instead, the same old greedy scandal hung once again in the air, a school soiled by sports.

Freshmen moving in, Donna Shalala and company hiding out.

More Miami probe coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
Why Miami should have foreseen problems
Several NFL stars ensnared in Miami controversy
Does Miami deserve the 'death penalty?'