On Monday, officials from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) stepped onto the Coral Gables campus to continue what has now been a five-month-long investigation of troubling allegations put forth by former UM booster Nevin Shapiro, who claims to have contributed millions of dollars in impermissible benefits to more than 70 of UM’s athletes between 2002 and 2010.
“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,” said Mark Emmert, president of the NCAA, in a written statement. “This pertains especially to the involvement of boosters and agents with student-athletes.”
The officials’ presence on campus, however, did not go unnoticed by the scores of local television stations and newspapers. WSVN, The Miami Herald, CBS Miami and Local 10 camped outside the Hecht Athletic Center, waiting for any instance of communication from university officials, coaches and administrators.
Shapiro, who is serving a 20-year prison sentence for his role in a $930 million Ponzi scheme, provided 100 hours of interviews to Yahoo! Sports, giving insight into what CNN said “could be the biggest scandal in the history of college sports.”
The Yahoo report was published Aug. 16 and delves into nearly a decade’s worth of continuous support from Shapiro including prostitutes, cash, visits with coaches and athletes to high-end restaurants, hotels and nightclubs, trips on his own $1.5 million yacht, events at his $6 million waterfront mansion, and perhaps most startling, assistance with an abortion.
According to The Miami Herald, Shapiro cooperated with Yahoo and released the slew of information out of anger and a supposed lack of UM support following his imprisonment.
“Once the players became pros, they turned their back on me,” Shapiro said. “It made me feel like a used friend.”
Now, the spotlight has shifted to former athletic director Kirby Hocutt, former men’s basketball head coach Frank Haith and President Donna E. Shalala.
“I encourage you to have patience as the process progresses; to have confidence in knowing that we are doing everything possible to discover the truth … and to have pride in what our university has accomplished and aspires to be,” Shalala said in a written statement.
Despite calls for her ouster, Shalala told The Miami Hurricane on Thursday that she plans to remain at the helm of University of Miami “for a long time.”
Although she said the details of her contract were “private,” Shalala said she isn’t going anywhere.
“Officially I’m here and I’ll be here as long as you all here and as long as I feel healthy and energetic, and I can still make contributions,” she said. “So you should not be thinking there’s some end out there. I’ll be here for a long time.”
Hocutt, however, left to Texas Tech in February, stating he wanted to return to his home state.
“It wasn’t on my radar screen because seven months had elapsed from the allegations to the time that I came to Texas Tech, and there were no further allegations made or questions to comeforward relating to this situation,” Hocutt said.
In fact, he did not mention Shapiro’s allegations to incoming head football coach Al Golden.
Even amid the barrage of questions regarding the allegations, Hurricane players have remained committed to practice in preparation for their matchup against Maryland on Sept. 5.
“The guys are just like they are every day,” said running back Mike James before a training camp session. “Nothing has changed.”
Though NCAA sanctions in response to the allegations are unclear – but perhaps extensive if proved true – there is an underlying fear of the “death penalty,” a move that would prevent UM from competing in football for at least one year.
In the days following the reports, however, students and Canes fans alike have come out to voice their support of the program amid these rough times. A “flash tweet” was organized Saturday evening that called for Canes fans to reply to #IStandWithTheU. At one point, the Twitter hashtag was trending nationally.
Student Government president Brandon Mitchell, in a letter addressed to current students released Monday afternoon, asked that they “show everyone that our family is as strong as it’s ever been.” In that same letter, he calls for students to wear orange for the first day of class.
Though Shapiro claims to have substantial amounts of evidence – photographs, bank statements and cell phone records – his words will continue to be regarded as allegations, until the NCAA terminates their investigation and draws a conclusion.
“There are tough times ahead, challenges to overcome and serious decisions to be made, but we will be left standing and we will be stronger as a result,” said Shawn Eichorst, current UM director of athletics in a written statement. “The University of Miami, as an institution of higher learning, is a leader in exploration, achievement and excellence and we will work hard to do our part to live up to that standard.”
Check out Student Government’s letter regarding the investigation in Monday afternoon’s special edition of Ibis News.