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U Miami’s football scandal

Joe Wirth | Thursday, September 8, 2011

Corruption has been a fact of life for major collegiate athletics for most of the past 30 years. Nothing has illustrated this problem more than this past offseason. There have been players receiving illegal benefits and boosters overstepping boundaries all over the country. Even everyone’s Cinderella, Boise State, had rule violations.

The recent University of Miami scandal, however, pushes the issue to another level. Under the Larry Coker and Randy Shannon coaching regimes, players were reportedly given yachts, women and free abortions by Nevin Shapiro, an overzealous booster who reportedly was willing to pay $1 million to the athletic director if he was allowed to become the coach of the football team.

That request alone should have raised some red flags. How this fanatic was able to get such access to college-aged players without administrative regulation is baffling. It is naïve to think this went unnoticed by school officials.

Miami football is no stranger to NCAA trouble. Known as the bad boys of college football in the 1980s, their cockiness and bravado defeated their opponents before kickoff. In 1995, the school was cited for numerous violations, most of which occurred in the glory years of the 1980s. This prompted Sports Illustrated to raise the question of whether or not Miami should drop the football program — a question that may be raised again as more details emerge from the NCAA’s investigation.

Seemingly not since the Southern Methodist University (SMU) football scandal of the late 1980s has there been such an obscene violation of NCAA rules. Highlighted by the “Pony Express” of Eric Dickerson and Craig James, the Mustangs were a perennial national championship contender in the 1980s. That all changed when SMU was given the death penalty for numerous violations, most notably paying recruits to come. The culture around the program was so bad that when Dickerson was entering the NFL, the joke was that he would be taking a pay cut by going pro.

The sanctions resulted in SMU giving up nearly all football scholarships and the NCAA cancelling their 1987 season. It may be time for Miami to receive the same verdict. These sanctions crippled the once proud program (SMU did not go to a bowl from 1984-2009) and served as an example for other programs to stay in line.

Miami is flirting with an equally devastating decision if these reports prove to be accurate. Some argue that the college football landscape has changed so much since the 1980s that the death penalty is simply impractical. Yes, there is a lot of money at stake and Miami is one of the marquee programs in college football, but if the NCAA wants to get serious on cracking down on rogue programs, they will finally give “The U” what it deserves — a death sentence.

The views expressed in the Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Joe Wirth at jwirth@nd.edu