Will Miami misconduct case lead to 'fundamental change'?
CORAL GABLES - The latest scandalous allegations in college football — this time at the University of Miami — have renewed talk by the NCAA of the need for "fundamental change" in athletics. And Hurricanes officials say they're eager to resolve the case. Former booster Nevin Shapiro, now serving 20 years in federal prison for his role in a Ponzi scheme, claims he provided Miami players with prostitutes, cars and other gifts over the past decade. "If the assertions are true, the alleged conduct at the University of Miami is an illustration of the need for serious and fundamental change in many critical aspects of college sports," NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a statement.In the past 18 months, football teams at Southern California, Ohio State, Auburn, Oregon, Michigan, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and LSU have been investigated or sanctioned by the NCAA. Last week, Emmert led a group of university presidents — including Miami's Donna Shalala — in drafting an outline for change in college sports. Shalala said she was upset, disheartened and saddened by Shapiro's allegations. "We will vigorously pursue the truth, wherever that path may lead, and I have insisted upon complete, honest and transparent cooperation with the NCAA from our staff and students," Shalala said in a statement. Most cases are resolved in six to seven months, but more complex investigations take longer, an NCAA official said. Shapiro began making his allegations about a year ago. He told Yahoo Sports that 72 football players and other athletes at Miami received improper benefits from him in the past decade. Shapiro was sentenced to prison in June for masterminding a $930 million Ponzi scheme, plus ordered to pay more than $82 million in restitution to investors. NCAA investigators were on the Miami campus this week and have interviewed Shalala and athletic director Shawn Eichorst. Eichorst was hired as athletic director in April to replace Kirby Hocutt, who became AD at Texas Tech. Al Golden became the Hurricanes' coach in December after Randy Shannon was fired. Golden's entire team practiced Wednesday, even though the claims by Shapiro involve several current players. Golden said it was too soon to take disciplinary action. His team opens the season Sept. 5 against Maryland. Yahoo Sports published its story Tuesday, saying it spent 100 hours interviewing Shapiro over the span of 11 months and audited thousands of pages of financial and business records to examine his claims, some involving events nearly a decade ago. The NCAA's four-year statute of limitations doesn't apply when there is a pattern of willful violations that continues into the past four years. A person familiar with the situation said much of Shapiro's access to Hurricane programs in recent years was approved by Hocutt. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation. Hocutt, the person said, allowed Shapiro on the sideline before football games at times during the 2008 season, plus invited him to select gatherings reserved for the athletic department's biggest donors. "That's what Kirby did," the person said. "His No. 1 job was to raise money and this Nevin Shapiro guy was one of the few people Kirby could get to write checks." In a statement, Hocutt said Shapiro was treated like other members of the Hurricane Club. "While I was athletics director, the benefits and experiences Mr. Shapiro received were consistent with those provided to others at his membership level," Hocutt said. "I never personally approved any special access for Mr. Shapiro to university athletics events or programs." Larry Coker, who coached the Hurricanes in 2001-06, said he had not been contacted by the NCAA or Miami about the investigation. Any coach or athletic direction involved in the case who now works at another school could be subject to NCAA punishment if found guilty of a violation. The AP interviewed more than a dozen former Miami players, and their reactions ranged from denials of involvement to declining comment.