CORAL GABLES, Fla. – The NCAA informed University of Miami administrators it will consider invoking its "willful violators" clause and make an exception to the traditional four-year statute of limitations in the Nevin Shapiro case, a university source told Yahoo! Sports.
Traditionally, the NCAA's bylaws would only allow it to sanction the Hurricanes for infractions that occurred during the four years prior to receiving a letter of inquiry from investigators. For example, if Miami received a letter of inquiry for a case on Sept. 1, 2011, the NCAA could only sanction the school for applicable violations dating back to Sept. 1, 2007. But the clause – reserved for "a pattern of willful violations" – can spin a probe back to the earliest applicable infractions.
Applied to the Shapiro allegations, it means the NCAA could reach as far back to early 2002, when the booster said he began funneling benefits to Hurricanes players. And if the probe stretched back to 2002, it would overlap with Miami's two-year probationary period from the baseball program, which was leveled from February 2003 to February 2005. That could potentially tag the Hurricanes athletic program with a "repeat violator" label and make the school further susceptible to the NCAA's so-called death penalty.
[Y! Sports probe: Who is Nevin Shapiro?]
NCAA president Mark Emmert said that despite the penalty being used only once before in college football – against Southern Methodist University in 1987 – the association isn't shying away from such a drastic sanction.
"We need to make sure that we've got, for the committee on infractions, all the tools they need to create those kinds of deterrents," Emmert told USA Today. "If that includes the death penalty, I'm fine with that."
And while the likelihood of the death penalty remains questionable, the possibility of the willful violators clause is not welcome news for an already-embattled athletic department. Miami athletic director Shawn Eichorst released a statement Thursday assuring the school's commitment to "the integrity of the NCAA investigation" and "demanding the full cooperation of our employees and student-athletes."
"There are tough times ahead, challenges to overcome and serious decisions to be made, but we will be left standing and we will be stronger as a result," Eichorst said. "I understand there are unanswered questions, concerns and frustration by many but this athletic department will be defined now and in the future, by our core values, our integrity and our commitment to excellence, and by nothing else. The University of Miami, as an institution of higher learning, is a leader in exploration, achievement and excellence and we will work hard to do our part to live up to that standard."
[Photo gallery: Miami booster parties with athletes]
Shapiro is a Miami booster currently serving a 20-year federal prison term for operation a $930 million Ponzi scheme. He detailed to Yahoo! Sports a wide-ranging eight-year run of violations that include cash, gifts, prostitution, entertainment at nightclubs and strip clubs, parties at his mansion, yacht cruises and other benefits. Yahoo! Sports found at least seven coaches, three support staff members and 72 athletes with direct involvement or knowledge of infractions committed by the booster from 2002 to 2010.
Contact Yahoo! Sports investigative reporter Charles Robinson at WindyCityScribe@yahoo.com