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Emmert, Shalala fight over whom Shapiro fooled more

Both Miami and NCAA should just want this case to go away

Dave Hyde

Sun Sentinel Columnist

6:19 PM EDT, April 5, 2013

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For 45 finger-wagging pages, the University of Miami's best lawyers criticized, condemned and posed in perfectly nuanced ways a question that fit NCAA President Mark Emmert with a clown nose:

Why was Nevin Shapiro given such credibility?

It's a legitimate question, put in legalistic fashion and dropped with impeccable timing as Emmert takes the national stage for the basketball Final Four. It even was leaked to ESPN's "Outside the Lines" to create the loudest possible echo.

There's just one small problem in Miami's rush to take the high moral ground by filing this motion-to-dismiss booklet:

Isn't this the exact question Miami President Donna Shalala faced about Shapiro?

Wasn't she fooled by Shapiro's game as much as the NCAA was? Didn't she and her athletic leaders also ignore warnings about him when football coach Randy Shannon and director of enforcement David Reed offered caution?

Didn't Shalala also dismiss initial media reports about Shapiro — months before the Yahoo! investigation — to the point where she didn't inform football coach Al Golden and basketball coach Jim Larranaga about a possible scandal when hiring them?

Didn't she then have to extend each coach's contract less than a season into it as a result?

This is how impressive, for lack of a better word, Shapiro's con game was. He didn't just bilk unknowing investors out of $1 billion. He bilked Shalala, a career politician, out of her smart standing.

He then went on and somehow bilked the NCAA of its investigatory reputation even while serving a felon's sentence from jail.

So, it's game, point, 20 years in jail, Shapiro.

Can't we just agree to that and move on?

Everyone wants this NCAA mess with Miami to be ended. Are you kidding? It approaches its third year now, with the smell still steaming from the pores of Miami and the NCAA, and every seeming end only leading to another trap door.

Miami's motion to dismiss inches everything to an endgame. Every legal point is right. Every page among the 45 is considered.

Why, the report asks, did the NCAA vouch for a "convicted felon before his federal sentencing judge"? How could a "senior NCAA executive" mention the "death penalty" for UM without going over Shapiro's claims? How could the NCAA use Shapiro's lawyer to question deposed witnesses?

Again: All the questions are proper and principled. But again: The underlying theme of trusting Shapiro easily can be turned on Miami's top leaders, too.

Emmert is an easy and deserving target these days. The NCAA is taking on water. Shalala knows this. That's why she timed the release of this motion to the Final Four. She wanted to turn the weapon of public opinion on Emmert.

The Rutgers case this week shows the power of public attention. Its basketball coach, Mike Rice, was fired Wednesday and its athletic director, Tom Pernetti, resigned Friday because the public demanded it in the wake of player abuse.

Shalala keeps smartly redirecting fire to the NCAA in a way to make the public back her methods. And for good reason. At the very least, it's time for the NCAA to come to a verdict and allow everyone to move on.

The NCAA should want an end to this as much as Miami does. Sure, Miami has operated under this shadow for a few years, suspended players and bowls and bared its embarrassment for all to see.

But the NCAA took the unprecedented step of blowing the whistle on itself, firing the lead investigator in the case and its vice president of enforcement, Julie Roe Lach. Can Emmert survive this? Will he?

"Death penalty'' were Shapiro's hopeful words to Channel 4 so long ago when asked about the result of his mess.

That won't happen to Miami or the NCAA. But that doesn't mean the two aren't linked in this scandal. Both of them rubbed up against Shapiro's slime and had some rub off on them.