Senior College Football Columnist

Miami set for its date in NCAA court in case where taint escapes no one


There are no innocents.

Here we are almost 2½ years since the NCAA started sniffing around the Miami program, almost two years since Yahoo! blew the top off what then was arguably the biggest scandal in college football -- college athletics? -- history.

Miami finally goes before the NCAA infractions committee this week, as we near the end (hopefully) of a long, contentious, historic case. If you don't know the details by now, there is no excuse. In fact, I can't think of a document that hasn't been leaked, released, downloaded or published.

The paper trail goes from Coral Gables to Nevin Shapiro's federal prison digs in New Jersey and back again. A lot of lawyers have made a lot of money shoveling a lot of ... um, information. Discretion -- an NCAA hallmark in these investigative matters -- has been lost.

We have seen the investigative sausage being made and the killing floor is not a pretty place. The blameless are in short supply. Why should we expect closure now?

After this weekend's meetings, additional penalties for Miami, if any, will be handed out in a period of weeks or months. Then what? The truth doesn't seem to be any clearer now than it was 2½ years ago. There has to be some respected professor emeritus or former SMU player who could make sense of it. You sure won't find clarity inside the ropes. It's a near impossibility to find someone involved in this case who isn't tainted …

 Those Miami players who allegedly partied with and profited from slimy sugar daddy Nevin Shapiro.

 The subset of athletes and recruits who kept their eligibility, rolling on Miami when given immunity by the NCAA.

 The association itself. Its zeal to self-police in January only deepened the scandal with ugly revelations about its enforcement process. Only the NCAA could make sympathetic figures out of Miami and Shapiro in this major infractions case.

 President Mark Emmert, who the NCAA executive committee felt necessary to give a "vote of confidence" in February.

"I'm still here," Emmert proclaimed to reporters at April's Final Four.

 Four key NCAA employees who worked the case are gone. Three of have them have been fired, one retired. That includes former enforcement director Julie Roe Lach.

All of it suggests a crisis in the enforcement department, certainly a lack of depth and definitely -- according to sources -- a morale problem.

On Tuesday, Rachel Newman Baker became at least the eighth person in enforcement over the past 18 months to leave, retire or be fired. Newman Baker, like Roe Lach, was one of those glue folks. Newman Baker, the managing director of enforcement for development, had been with the NCAA for 12 years. That's a lot of institutional knowledge.

 Miami, which on some level is guilty of something it would seem. President Donna Shalala has essentially communicated from a bunker via press release since the case got hot. Will her vow of silence end if the Canes get hammered?

  Shapiro who could be the most pampered NCAA scofflaw/witness in history. He's serving a 20-year sentence for his role in a Ponzi scheme. But that's only the judgment from society. On his way to jail, Shapiro had a letter written for him by former NCAA investigator (Ameen Najjar). Shapiro was set up by the NCAA with his own cell phone and prison account.

The NCAA has used convicted felons for information in the past. This one has admitted to committing perjury.

Someone once said the NCAA could convict a ham sandwich if it wanted. That's one reason why the association has seemed to be out to lunch on this one. There were those inside NCAA enforcement who were upset at Emmert for cracking down on the use of attorney Maria Perez to subpoena witnesses.

That's wrong on one level because the NCAA doesn't have the power to subpoena anyone. On other level, the outrage inside enforcement suggests a feeling there was nothing wrong with hiring Perez, essentially as a third-party contract worker.

Miami's guilt in letting Shapiro run free within the department seems unassailable. But current Miami player Dyron Dye signed an affidavit saying he was intimidated by since-retired investigator Rich Johanningmeier during an interview and only told him what he wanted to hear.

Dye filed an incident report with the Coral Gables police saying he was "coerced" by Johanningmeier.

Former Miami men's basketball coach Frank Haith (now at Missouri) is still trying to figure out who accessed his bank account. That was only discovered when his wife called to get copies of three checks, requested by the NCAA. Haith had written the checks to his assistants out of his Bank of America account. We may never know the answer. A judge recently denied a petition filed by Haith's lawyer to look into the matter.

If the enforcement staff had been able to prove a quarter of what Yahoo! unearthed in August 2011, that should have been enough to send Miami to some sort of probation dungeon. (Remember that ham sandwich?) But the case has lingered like a dose of shingles.

Beginning Thursday the infractions committee could rule on an unprecedented motion to dismiss the case by Miami and an assortment of coaches. The 42-page document, filed in the middle of the case, checked off various NCAA sins. The various motions are expected to be denied. The case, then, will most likely proceed into Friday and end on Saturday.

We now have a clearer picture of when the case will be complete, but not what that end will be. Will Miami sue if it is penalized beyond its self-imposed sanctions that include back-to-back bowl bans, player suspensions and at least the preparation for a loss of scholarships?

The NCAA -- its legal department busy fighting at least four major lawsuits elsewhere -- certainly doesn't need another litigious headache. Or maybe it doesn't matter. The association seems immune to bad publicity and its legal budget seems limitless. The pressure is now on that infractions committee, a separate arm from the enforcement staff. This is their mess now. Infractions is made up of various administrative volunteers, believe it or not. Lawyers, ADs, faculty representatives. They don't need this aggravation but they're about to enter a spit storm of monumental proportions.

Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky is the current chair. Conference realignment has to look like a play day compared to dodging the potential legal, media and public opinion daggers coming the committee's way.

In what mood will Shalala arrive in to greet her accusers? She was ripping the NCAA following the release of the notice of allegations in February. That was long after Emmert, at one point, had commended the school for being "extraordinarily cooperative" in the case.

Which way, then, the U?

There will be gobs of irony surrounding Shalala as she marches into the hearing room. Twenty-two months ago in the same town (Indianapolis) she was one of 50-plus elite college presidents invited by the NCAA for a reform summit.

Shalala and those presidents boldly established a reform agenda that continues with varying degrees of success today. The question has since been asked: If the former Secretary of Health and Human Services can't keep her own campus clean, how can she be trusted as a shepherd for a national reform movement?

Or maybe it's impossible. Everyone is tainted.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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