NCAA scandal tests President Donna E. Shalala’s leadership style

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On Dec. 13, 2010, Miami announced that Al Golden would be the next head coach of the football team. The 2011 preseason was a time of great enthusiasm for the program after enduring a string of disappointing seasons under coaches Larry Coker and Randy Shannon.

Eight months after the signing of the new coach and less than three weeks before Golden coached his first game for the Hurricanes, Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports shredded any trace of optimism with a scathing report outlining years of illicit behavior by Miami players, coaches and employees on the football and men’s basketball teams.

The NCAA scandal, which lasted from the summer of 2011 to the fall of 2013, will forever be linked to outgoing UM President Donna Shalala. The indelible image of Shalala grinning at a $50,000 check from booster Nevin Shapiro in a bowling alley in 2008 symbolized the university’s desire for money at the time, regardless of the source.

The trouble for Miami began in 2001 when Shapiro became a “living scholar” for donating $12,000 to the athletic program. Shapiro gained intimate access to members of the football team and showered scores of players with impermissible benefits, until he was charged with securities fraud and money laundering in 2010 for his role in a $900 million Ponzi scheme.

According to the Yahoo report released on Aug. 16, 2011, Shapiro paid for players to sleep with prostitutes, threw lavish parties on his yacht, offered bounties for big hits, gave cash to players and bought them jewelry in a nearly 10-year span.

“I became a booster in late 2001 and by early 2002, I was giving kids gifts,” Shapiro said in the Yahoo story. “From the start, I wasn’t really challenged. And once I got going, it just got bigger and bigger. I just did what I wanted and didn’t pay much mind toward the potential repercussions.”

On Aug. 25, 2011, Miami ruled 13 football players, including then-starting quarterback Jacory Harris, as ineligible for committing NCAA violations by associating with Shapiro. The university self-imposed bowl bans over the next two years while waiting for the penalty handed down by the NCAA.

Shalala didn’t hesitate. She swiftly responded to the allegations made in the Yahoo report with a statement to the university community the day after the story was published, releasing four total statements in the first two weeks after the news broke.

Shalala faced such intense backlash from the University of Miami community following the report that Leonard Abess, chairman of UM’s Board of Trustees, released a “vote of confidence” statement urging the community to support the president and the rest of the school’s leadership.

For nearly two years, Shalala had to remain on the defensive as the NCAA’s investigation into Miami was ongoing. That changed in early Feb. 2013, when the NCAA revealed information gathered in its investigation had to be thrown out because it was improperly obtained.

NCAA officials paid Shapiro’s attorney, Maria Elena Perez, to depose members of the university that allegedly received improper benefits from Shapiro. That didn’t prevent the NCAA from accusing the university of “a lack of institutional control” in its Notice of Allegations sent to Miami on Feb. 19, 2013.

Shalala responded later that day with a statement of contrition and defiance. In the letter, Shalala admitted the university regretted committing any violations, but she also attacked the NCAA for its faulty investigation.

Shalala ended the letter saying, “We trust that the Committee on Infractions will provide the fairness and integrity missing during the investigative process.”

On Oct. 22, 2013, over two years after launching the investigation into UM, the NCAA Committee on Infractions made its decision. Miami was placed on probation for three years and lost nine football scholarships over three seasons as well as three basketball scholarships over three seasons.

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