Last week, Miami officially revoked the eligibility of eight of the dozen current players who allegedly accepted improper benefits from ex-booster turned convicted Ponzi-schemer Nevin Shapiro, whose sprawling account of largess over the last decade threatens to bring the program to its knees. At the time, Miami seemed to hope the NCAA would let all eight off the hook with a slap on the wrist in time for next Monday's season opener at Maryland. When the official verdict came down today, not surprisingly, that didn't happen.
But it came a lot closer than most of us expected: Of the dozen players in question, only three will miss more than one game. Five will sit for only one game, making them eligible to play again by this time next week. And four others won't miss any time at all.
The full accounting, from the NCAA's official release (emphasis added):
Olivier Vernon, who received more than $1,200 in benefits primarily from Shapiro, must miss six games and make repayment of the value of the benefits. These recruitment benefits included meals, transportation, access to Shapiro's game suite, drinks, as well as cover charges at two different nightclubs, among others.
Two other student-athletes, Aravious Armstrong and Dyron Dye, will miss four games and must make repayment. Armstrong received approximately $788 in extra benefits from Shapiro and athletics personnel during his recruitment. Dye received approximately $738. These student-athletes' benefits included five nights of impermissible lodging from institutional staff during their unofficial visits, transportation, multiple meals, and entertainment at a gentleman's club.
Vernon, Armstrong and Dye all received "substantial benefits" as recruits "to entice them to enroll," which is considered especially egregious. Five other players were only charged with receiving benefits after enrolling:
These five student-athletes — Marcus Forston, Sean Ryan Spence, Adewale Ojomo, Travis Benjamin and Jacory Harris — must miss one game and make repayment. Forston received more than $400 in extra benefits from Shapiro and athletic personnel, including athletic equipment, meals, nightclub cover charges and entertainment at a gentleman's club. Spence received approximately $275 in benefits, including meals, transportation, as well as cover charges and entertainment at a gentleman's club. Ojomo received $240 in extra benefits, including a meal and nightclub cover charges. Benjamin received more than $150 in extra benefits, including meals and entertainment. Harris received more than $140 in benefits from meals, entertainment, transportation and nightclub cover charges.
Four other players must repay small amounts, all under $100, but were not suspended for any games. A 13th player, defensive end Marcus Robinson, was cleared of wrongdoing.
That's a lot of names, a lot of games and a lot of dollar signs, but it adds up to a huge sigh of relief for the U: The most important names on the chopping block — Jacory Harris (top), Travis Benjamin, Marcus Fortson and Sean Spence (above right) — will return in good standing after Monday's opener, restoring the starting quarterback, leading returning receiver and All-ACC candidates at defensive tackle and middle linebacker to the lineup just in the nick of time for a visit from suspension-ravaged Ohio State on Sept. 17.
At that point, the Buckeyes will still be without key starters at tailback, wide receiver and left tackle, respectively, all of whom are serving five-game suspensions that will last well into October. They'll also still be breaking in a new quarterback in place of exiled starter Terrelle Pryor. Meanwhile, the 'Canes will be at nearly full strength for the key midseason run against ACC Coastal rivals Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Georgia Tech, and — barring injuries or further revelations — at full strength for the stretch run against Florida State, South Florida and Boston College in November.
Olivier Vernon and Ray Ray Armstrong are both veteran starters whose presence will be missed on defense over the first half of the season, but on a scale of 1 to 10, the collective damage to Miami's prospects for the year is somewhere around a three. At most.
[Y! Sports probe: Miami booster spells out illicit benefits to players]
Of course, that's only in the short term. Over the long term, the prospects are still dire: With 72 players and four assistant coaches deeply involved with an unrepentant booster who was also an active sports agent — not to mention the architect of a multimillion-dollar Ponzi-scheme — the prospective sanctions at the end of the NCAA's ongoing investigation could still reduce the program to a smoldering crater via heavy-handed scholarship reductions, a multi-year bowl ban, heavy fines or worse.
But we're still months away from all that. In the meantime, the 'Canes will suck it up against Maryland, use the subsequent bye week to regroup and come out against the Buckeyes full steam ahead.
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