If the Miami Hurricanes were a typical football program, they’d be pretty optimistic about next season — as in “National Championship” kind of optimistic. Those are pretty heady words considering that the last time the Hurricanes were relevant nationally George W. Bush hadn’t even invaded Iraq yet. However, coming off a 7-5 record in a season, few expected them to finish higher than last in the ACC Coastal Division. A roster that returns 19 of 22 starters, there is reason to dream big. Running back and ACC Rookie of the Year Randy “Duke” Johnson will be on most Heisman watch lists next year. Quarterback Stephen Morris will be back after a breakout season. The defense, which was Miami’s clear weakness a season ago, will be more mature and, if spring practice is any indication, much improved. Miami should be the preseason favorite to be ACC champions. The 2013 season should end in an exclamation point.
Unfortunately, they Hurricanes are not a typical football program. The NCAA has been investigating Miami for the last two years due to the accusations of former Hurricane booster Nevin Shapiro. According to interviews, Shapiro admits giving nearly 100 Miami athletes impermissible benefits including cash, high-priced dinners and prostitutes over the course of eight years. The allegations have caused some to speculate that the NCAA could impose the dreaded “death penalty”. The Miami athletic department, already on its third athletic director since whispers of the allegations began, has tried to kowtow to the NCAA in hopes of leniency. Last year, several players involved in the scandal were suspended for multiple games. They’ve self-imposed bowl bans for two straight years. So, as of now, the 2013 season is a huge question mark for the Miami Hurricanes.
Or is it?
At first, he NCAA’s investigation seemed like a slam dunk. A booster confessed. He has names, dates, receipts, emails, text messages, cell phone photos and who knows what other kinds of proof. Right? If so, why has the NCAA taken two solid years to carry out the investigation? There are some clues that perhaps their evidence of wrongdoing by Miami isn’t as overwhelming as previously thought. For one, the NCAA looks desperate. Case in point: the NCAA sent out a letter to the attorneys of former Hurricanes implicated in the scandal stating that they “will consider the non-response as your client’s admission of involvement in NCAA violations”. This unprecedented move by the NCAA was described by one member of Miami’s compliance department as a “bully tactic” and a “desperate move”. The unstated message from the NCAA in sending out this letter was “we’ve wasted a load of money investigating the allegations of a convicted felon and now we need to justify our investment.” Would the NCAA resort to tactics like this if their case were a “slam dunk”? Doubtfully. Most likely, Miami committed a few infractions. However, the NCAA was looking for a bigger prize, and didn’t get it. In the meantime, Miami is left swinging the warm South Beach breeze.
To further complicate matters, the NCAA has admitted to paying Shapiro’s own attorney, Maria Elena Perez, to gain information from him regarding the scandal. In a rather public display of damage control over this clear ethical violation, NCAA president Mark Emmert announced they were removing any evidence gained from Perez from their investigation. Exasperated with the whole process, Miami president Donna Shalala asked the case to be dismissed. The NCAA so far have stuck to their guns and announced that the case will still be brought before the Committee of Infractions. What those infractions will be and when they will be announced is still a guess.
So, how will this investigation impact the 2013 Hurricane football season? The NCAA could follow through on its threat against former players, which could lead to far greater penalties. Or it could admit what most already know: their case is laughably flimsy and woefully mismanaged. Miami could emerge relatively unscathed. Most likely, it will be somewhere in between: a loss of scholarships and a long probation perhaps. If this is the case, Hurricane fans should rejoice. The young, talented Canes will be a year bigger, stronger, faster, better and most importantly, eligible for a bowl. So, while next season is a question mark right now, Hurricane fans can be optimistic that it will end with a resounding exclamation point.