The NCAA suspensions of eight Miami football players appear to have caused an understandable, though misguided, outrage in some quarters.
Among the questions: How can the NCAA allow all of these athletes to play most of this season? Where is the promised crackdown on cheaters? Hasn’t NCAA ayatollah Mark Emmert appeared on every gabfest from Rush to Dan Patrick saying the “death penalty” is on the table? Didn’t the media hype the allegations against the Hurricanes as the worst in decades? Don’t these punishments make some of the suspensions last season at North Carolina overkill? How – wink, wink – did the NCAA determine the amount players must repay for the strippers and hookers provided by notorious booster Nevin Shapiro?
Now more often than not, the NCAA deserves the bashings it takes. But in this case, digging a little deeper provides some context that should abate the outrage.
First and foremost: Tuesday’s suspensions do not end this saga. Yahoo! Sports’ expose earlier this month alleged Shapiro, serving 20 years in prison for running a Ponzi scheme, providing improper benefits to 65 Hurricane football players, and the NCAA continues to investigate.
So figure on additional sanctions such as scholarship cuts. If the NCAA verifies all of Shapiro’s claims, bank on penalties that would essentially neuter the Hurricanes for years.
But only 13 of the players identified by Yahoo! are current. The NCAA cleared one of wrongdoing and ordered 12 to repay the value of extra benefits. Of the 12, the NCAA suspended eight, for varying numbers of games.
Five probable starters – quarterback Jacory Harris, linebacker Sean Spence, receiver Travis Benjamin, defensive tackle Marcus Forston and defensive lineman Adewale Ojomo – are suspended one game. Starting safety Ray-Ray Armstrong and reserve tight end Dyron Dye will miss four games, starting defensive end Olivier Vernon six.
The longer suspensions went to those who accepted improper benefits during their recruitment.
The most salacious of the benefits Yahoo! Sports reported were prostitutes, strip-club parties and cash bonuses for big plays and tackles. But as the player-by-player accounting in the story shows, the worst offenses Shapiro alleges involved former Hurricanes.
Yes, Spence and Forston are linked to a gentleman’s club, and there’s no telling how the NCAA guesstimated the value of that perk. Restitution, which goes to charity and as detailed in this ESPN story, ranges from more than $1,200 (Vernon) to less than $100.
A Virginia Tech fan messaged me on Twitter last night asking if these suspensions aren’t tame compared to the longer punishments handed out last season at North Carolina for improper benefits. I don’t think so.
At Carolina, the gifts and perks were of far greater value, more than $10,000 for Marvin Austin, and $5,000 or more for Robert Quinn and Greg Little. Moreover, the NCAA said some of the Tar Heels engaged in academic fraud and failed to cooperate with investigators.
North Carolina officials are scheduled to appear before the NCAA Committee on Infractions on Oct. 28, with final sanctions to follow. Miami’s case lags far behind.
Forecasting NCAA punishments is folly, but in the current reform climate, Miami and North Carolina should be very, very afraid. And deservedly so.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun