Bungled Miami probe exposes NCAA's own legitimacy issues in seedy detail

The ever-bombastic Nevin Shapiro, currently serving 20 years for running a Ponzi scheme, once promised "Hurricane Nevin" would flatten the University of Miami football program. It didn't happen. As a not-insignificant consolation, though, Shapiro wound up taking one mighty, mighty hack at the NCAA itself.

The NCAA is a ghost of itself, and, after reading through 102 pages of the Miami "Public Infractions Report" released Tuesday, it appears no one knows that better than the committee of infractions itself.

This was part internal admission of feebleness and part passive-aggressive swipe at the U. The NCAA aired all the dirty laundry it could. It issued strongly worded condemnations and damning conclusions. It humiliated the coaches and administrators involved. Then it doled out penalties that fall somewhere between slap-on-the-wrist and pat-on-the-back.

Miami's football program sat out two postseasons while the investigation dragged on. Those were significant self-imposed penalties. On Tuesday, the NCAA added that Miami's total football scholarships will be capped at 82 for the next three years – which isn't even a penalty because it's common for rule-abiding programs to fall short of the maximum 85 through attrition. Basketball will endure similar scholarship "reductions." So that's nothing.

Some assistant football and basketball coaches were dinged hard, but former basketball coach Frank Haith, who was lampooned throughout the report, will have to sit out only five weak nonconference games with his current employer, Missouri.

If you are, like me, dismissive of the basic concept of the NCAA as little more than a tax and workman's comp dodge that uses the nonsensical concept of "amateurism" to funnel the vast majority of revenue to coaches, administrators and facility contractors, then you don't care about the leniency of the punishment. This isn't about a program getting what's coming, but a spotlight being shined on the entire absurd process.

From that point of view, the penalties could hardly be more perfect.

The NCAA has an extensive rulebook because the rulebook allows it to avoid paying players under the guise of "amateurism" and a "level playing field." It also protects it from many lawsuits from athletes and serves as a way to avoid paying billions of dollars in taxes.

It's a very, very valuable document. As such, the NCAA cherishes its rulebook. So much, in fact, that it proceeded with this case despite its own enforcement staff violating a number of guidelines while investigating the case. A ton of stuff was thrown out. We can only imagine how this would have read with the original material in there because it's overwhelming without it.

How can the NCAA claim its rulebook is anything but a puff of magic smoke at this point?

Consider these gems that come from the report:

• "The institution enabled a culture of noncompliance to exist."

• "Five coaches in football and three coaches in men's basketball either had a poor understanding of the rules or felt comfortable breaking them."

• "[There was] an attitude of indifference towards compliance."

[Pat Forde: Miami shouldn't feel good about findings]

• "For nearly a decade, the booster [Shapiro] provided, and student-athletes received a range of impermissible benefits. For nearly a decade, those benefits were completely undetected. It does not appear that the institution conducted an assessment of the effectiveness of its compliance program, particularlyin its high-profile sports to determine whether there was any concern for potential violations."

• "In this case it is apparent that individuals within and outside of the program were involved with, and aware of numerous violations."

It goes on and on, including the confirmation of a November 2007 "altercation" inside the Orange Bowl press box between Shapiro and the school's then-compliance director (the person in charge of following the rules). Shapiro was drunk and wanted to fight. It isn't normal behavior. It's completely outlandish, so outlandish the committee on infractions concluded, it "should have highlighted a need for such rules education."

Really, you think having a booster attempting to punch out the compliance director might be considered a red flag? Actually the compliance guy did think that.

"Immediately after the altercation with the booster the former associate director of athletics/compliance reported the incident to senior athletics administrators. He specifically stated his concern that the booster not only had threatened his career but had 'way too much access' to student-athletes."

And still no "senior athletic administrator" dared to look into Nevin Shapiro. No one at Miami cared, not as long as he kept promising big donation checks.

"There is nothing in the record that suggests institutional steps were taken to address the concerns raised by the former associate director of athletics."

Good times, everyone willing to look the other way as long as Nevin kept handing out money.

The report details violation after violation. And this was not just players with their hands out for free drinks or VIP room privileges or fishing trips on Shapiro's yacht or big parties at restaurants or bowling alleys or even old-fashioned cash handouts. Those can all be somewhat difficult to monitor, although perhaps not when they occurred with such frequency over such a long period.

This was much better, though. Coaches brought recruits to Shapiro's South Beach mansion for parties. Shapiro paid for a hotel room of a recruit in for an unofficial visit. Recruits were brought by his luxury suite at Sun Life Stadium by football staffers. He entertained high school coaches in nightclubs with assistant coaches present. This was a booster, who also partially owned a sports agency, intricately involved in the recruiting process in two separate sports for years on end.

"They couldn't recruit without Nevin," former Hurricane Randy Phillips told the South Florida Sun Sentinel Monday. "It got to the point where Nevin was the recruiter. Every top star player came through Nevin's house."

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

Then there was the recruit who stayed at an assistant's house during an unofficial visit, all sorts of transportation violations, meals and entertainment that shouldn't have occurred, and even a "bat phone" for one coach to call prospects outside of the NCAA-mandated timeframes. Recruits can take "unofficial visits" to a campus for one night. One prospect told the NCAA he stayed a week.

This, in short, would be considered "cheating" by the NCAA's own rulebook. Clear cheating by the very people – coaches and administrators – who make their money courtesy of the very rulebook they are supposed to hold sacred. This isn't a pay-the-players deal. These are the millionaires who already benefit from the system.

When it came to the booster involvement, this wasn't a shadowy case. Miami loved Nevin Shapiro. (And he's not the only booster in the report.)

"The booster at the center of this case was extremely 'visible' …" the committee concluded. "By granting him special access and celebrating him with the naming of a student lounge, it is clear that the institution embraced him. He certainly did not 'fly under the radar,' as the institution asserts but rather was a major supporter of their athletics programs, which creates a greater responsibility to monitor."

Or not.

The NCAA makes note that it has already strengthened its penalties for future violators, but, really, who is buying that?

Perhaps the best line in the entire report – and there are near-endless candidates for that honor – was when Haith described the reality of his job and why he needed to befriend someone such as Shapiro.

[Photo gallery: Miami booster parties with athletes]

"Did we win enough games for the Miami supporters?" Haith told the NCAA. "You read the papers, I don't think they felt that great about what we did there. I didn't recruit, I didn't get the five-star guys. And let's, like I said, let's [not] be naïve about the level. Our business is corrupt and [this is] how we got to deal with these guys at the high level kid."

Our business is corrupt.

The issue here isn't that the penalties are weak – in the broader view what good comes out of a school limiting the number of young people who receive a scholarship? And why should current Miami players have their championship season derailed because of this nonsense?

Let the Hurricanes play on … after all, our business is corrupt. Like Haith was essentially saying, the school's chief problem was Shapiro turned out to be a Ponzi schemer, and as he sat, stewing behind bars, he decided to seek revenge against the former friends who now wouldn't return his calls. Otherwise, it's business as usual.

So the penalties are fine … except in the past the NCAA used to hammer schools and coaches for far, far less. And that drives the rest of college sports crazy. Or, as one Big 12 coach texted Tuesday morning … "this can't possibly be real."

Oh, but it is. You know they're seething at USC right now, where the biggest mistake years ago was not falling on their own sword. These days, it's not the severity of the violations but how much you cooperate. Well, perhaps. No one really has any idea.

Such as, how exactly did former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl receive a three-year "show-cause" penalty (essentially making him unemployable) for holding a cookout for recruit Aaron Craft and then lying about it, when Haith received a five-game suspension after the NCAA found all sorts of violations and deemed his shifting explanations as to why $10,000 was funneled to Shapiro's mother in an elaborate hush-money plot a lie?

Or, to be more precise, they used the phrase, "these accounts are inconsistent and not credible."

Inconsistent and not credible.

Sort of like the NCAA itself. Why have these rules? Why keep pretending? Our business is corrupt? Sort of, but only because the rulebook defines it as such.

So when will someone – a federal judge, a politician seeking tax revenue – strip the NCAA of the extra benefits it claims it deserves because of its not-followed and not-enforced rules?

How many more Nevin Shapiros do we need before everyone admits this is a joke, and the system changes?