MIAMI (CBSMiami.com) – Tuesday’s ruling from the NCAA suspending various players of the University of Miami football team was bad, but the worst is likely still to come as the NCAA infractions committee continues to investigate the rules violations committed by UM.
The NCAA will typically frown upon players getting improper benefits from boosters, but when coaches and other athletic department personnel are involved with those benefits; that’s when the NCAA will drop the hammer on a school, particularly if recruiting is involved.
For UM, the possibility of severe sanctions are now likely. The NCAA gave some insight into the investigation in the third paragraph of the findings on the eligibility of three current University of Miami football players.
“Of the eight football student-athletes, three received substantial benefits as prospective student-athletes from Shapiro and athletics personnel to entice them to enroll at the university, which are considered some of the most serious violations within the NCAA,” the NCAA wrote in Tuesday’s statement.
- Click here to read the full letter sent to the University of Miami
The NCAA’s warning over the seriousness of the violations does not bode well for UM in the future. Depending on how many athletics personnel are involved, it could trigger the NCAA’s “lack of institutional control,” finding in the infractions case.
Lack of institutional control is possibly the most serious finding the NCAA can find in an infractions case. Once that level is met, the severity of a school’s punishment increases exponentially.
Billy Corben, who made ESPN’s “30 For 30″ film titled “The U,” said, “Based on the wording of the NCAA statement, it’s easy to see they’re moving in the direction of there being some level of institutional responsibility.”
But those findings will not be coming soon as an NCAA infractions investigation can last upwards of a year, depending on the complexity of the case involved.
As for the 2011 season, Canes head coach Al Golden at least has a better idea of how to game-plan for the University of Maryland game next Monday night. Coach Golden’s team is not going to be as severely impacted as teams in the future.
But that doesn’t mean the suspensions will not impact the current season.
In Tuesday’s ruling, the NCAA said eight University of Miami players must miss at least one game and repay benefits as a condition to becoming eligible to play again for the Canes.
“I think it was probably fair,” Golden told the Associated Press. “Clearly, whatever transpired, it wasn’t as over-the-top as everybody was initially reporting and all of those things. The NCAA and the university felt there was mistakes made…and I’ve accepted that. And now we’re moving forward.”
UM student Kyle Sielaff was relieved with the NCAA’s findings.
“As a student, it’s hard to take,” said Sielaff. “I think it could have been a lot worse and the NCAA could have come down on us a lot harder.”
According to the NCAA, Olivier Vernon received more than $1200 in benefits, primarily from Shapiro. Vernon will miss six games and must make repayment of the value of the benefits. Aravious Armstrong and Dyron Dye will miss four games and must also make repayment of the benefits.
Vernon, Dye, and Armstrong were the three players that admitted to the NCAA they received improper benefits from athletics personnel.
Five student-athletes, Marcus Forston, Sean Spence, Adewale Ojomo, Travis Benjamin, and Jacory Harris must miss one game and make repayment, according to the NCAA.
CBS4′s Kara Kostanich caught up with Harris after practice on Wednesday, but the quarterback said, “I don’t know anything.”
He was pressed and said the team had a good practice, but “other than that, I don’t got nothing.”
Harris finally ended everything saying, “I can’t do no interviews that’s not issued by the media people, sorry about that.”
A ninth player, senior wide receiver Aldarius Johnson was suspended indefinitely for an unspecified violation of team rules. Johnson’s mother, Shantera, said the school told him that he was part of the NCAA investigation.
“They’re telling him it’s because of the investigation and I am saying that is not fair,” Shantera Johnson said. “He is getting the worst punishment of all. That means he may not play for the rest of the season. And they are not giving us answers. That affects the rest of his life. This is what he knows. He is a football player.”
Shantera would not comment on a Sun-Sentinel report that claimed Aldarius was “less than forthright in two interviews with NCAA investigators while the rest of the UM players interviewed who received impermissible benefits admitted they had.”
Nevin Shapiro told Yahoo! Sports that he had given Johnson thousands of dollars and that Aldarius was “always calling me if his mother couldn’t pay the bills, or the cat had a problem or the dog ate his homework. I just gifted him money at least 10 times from the low end being like $50 to the high end probably being like $300 to $400.”
Shantera did say that she plans to hire an attorney to possibly challenge UM’s indefinite suspension of Johnson.
“The student-athletes involved have acknowledged receiving improper benefits and will now be responsible for restitution and, in some cases, the student-athletes will also serve game suspensions,” said UM Director of Athletics Shawn Eichorst.
Corben said he believes the University and its president should be held responsible.
“When it comes to responsibility, you need to look at that picture from the Yahoo! Sports story of Nevin Shapiro and Donna Shalala holding that check. That check bought her moral authority,” said Corben. “You can’t with one hand take a check from him and wag your finger in the face of a student athlete and say ‘you have to do as I say not as I do. That’s not fair.”
Shalala has issued several statements through the University, including several video statements posted on the school’s websites. She has not answered any questions from reporters, and has said she can’t because of the ongoing investigation.
Still, UM can continue to be out in front of the infractions committee with a little work.
“I think they still can be proactive if they sniff the NCAA may hit them with a bowl ban, they can absolutely say to themselves this year that we’ll take the bowl ban. We’ll have a self-inflicted bowl-ban this year and that would carry-over to whatever the NCAA bestows upon them,” said CBS4’s Jorge Sedano.
Meantime, coach Golden is getting a voice of support from one of UM’s biggest rivals. FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher wished Golden all the best during the continued investigation.
The NCAA infractions investigation is still in its infancy, and there are several steps to come. While it’s not been confirmed, the NCAA will send a Notice of Inquiry informing the school of the investigation.
After that, the infractions committee will send a notice of alleged violations within six months of the notice of inquiry. UM will then have to go before the committee on infractions to defend itself of the charges.
Only after those steps are followed, will the penalties be announced six to eight weeks after the committee on infractions hearing. Schools can appeal their violations once they are announced.
The NCAA said while its penalties can impact innocent student-athletes, the sanctions are “meant to be punitive.” The NCAA said the penalties are meant to “deter schools from breaking the rules again.”
While former players may skate on the problems, the NCAA does have rules in place that require any athletics personnel involved in rule-breaking to face sanctions, even if they are now at another school.
The new school would have to take action required by the NCAA against a coach or staff member. It can also require coaches or individuals are not employed by the NCAA, the Committee on Infractions can force any school seeking to hire those people to appear before the committee before the hire is announced.