Switzer can sympathize with University of Miami coaches. The NCAA is investigating allegations of convicted Ponzi schemer and enterprising booster Nevin Shapiro that he provided gifts, cash, meals, booze, cars, prostitutes, nightclub parties and strip-club visits to 72 Miami athletes from 2002 to 2010.
Miami has declared a number of current players ineligible in the hopes they will be reinstated in time for the Sept. 5 season opener at Maryland.
“The athletes know the rules and know they are jeopardizing their eligibility and they must be held accountable or they’re out,” Switzer said. “Unfortunately, they will take whatever is offered to them, nine kids out of 10.”
Switzer blames Shapiro and those who failed to notice his pattern of ingratiating behavior. He said Shapiro wouldn’t have gotten away with it for long in Norman, where “we don’t have all those strip clubs and South Beach nightlife.”
“He had that little-guy mentality,” Switzer said of the 5-5 Shapiro. “You’re going to have these rogue boosters because their egos need to be massaged, and they need to feel accepted.”
Oklahoma paid for its sins. The enormously popular Switzer resigned under pressure. Players went to jail or were kicked off the team. The football program lost scholarships, was banned from TV and bowls for two years and went through a period of instability.
But the Sooners bounced back within five years. Miami could be equally resilient if it is socked with NCAA sanctions. Other scandals through the years provide examples on how to cope with an investigation and rebound from punishment. From the Charley Pell era at Florida to Pat Dye’s years at Auburn to Alabama’s recruiting indiscretions to the booster disaster at Michigan that wiped out the Fab Five’s records to academic fraud at Minnesota and Memphis to Ohio State’s Tattoogate to Miami’s Pell Grant scam. Most teams repent, heal and win again.
“We won back-to-back titles while on probation and off TV,” Switzer said of his 1974 and 1975 teams serving probation for violations that occurred under Chuck Fairbanks. “Losing scholarships is the killer, but kids still want to play for great programs. Miami has been down lately, and this will take them down a notch lower, but they can rebuild because the talent is right there in their backyard.”
Reggie Bush took Southern California to the pinnacle, then brought it crumbling down when he and his family were found to have taken up to $300,000 from two sports agents, including use of a house. Victories and the 2004 national championship were erased. USC has been docked 30 scholarships over three years and banned from bowls for two years. Bush, now with the Dolphins, returned his Heisman Trophy. Coach Pete Carroll left for the Seattle Seahawks.
“High-profile players demand high-profile compliance,” said former Miami athletic director and infractions committee chairman Paul Dee, loathed by USC fans who say the Trojans were penalized too harshly given that coaches and administrators did not know about Bush’s arrangement.
But the NCAA argued that they should have known, the same argument that could sink Miami, which is faced with a much broader array of charges over eight years.
USC dragged out the process and was not cooperative, which soured the NCAA, said Pompano Beach attorney Michael Buckner, a USC alumnus and Florida State law school graduate who represents colleges in the NCAA enforcement process.
“USC was not transparent, fought tooth and nail on a lot of minor issues and tried to win battles instead of the war,” Buckner said. “They agreed at the 12th hour to a lot of allegations when they should have confronted them early.
“If you are a university with blinders on, you will be blindsided in the infractions meeting.”
In response to the penalties, USC created a new position, vice president of compliance, and hired attorney David Roberts, who oversees 10 compliance officers ” about triple the number most schools employ.
USC has restricted access to players, which saddens alumnus and booster Ed Bubar, a pharmacist who donates to the pharmacy school and endowed a football scholarship for $450,000. He used to attend football practice, although he never had the interaction privileges accorded to Shapiro. Now, practices are closed.
“The infractions involved a street agent with no ties to the school,” Bubar said. “Alums and boosters feel disenchanted, and USC will lose donors. The same thing will happen at Miami.”
Bubar is amazed at Shapiro’s ability to eat and drink with players and entertain them at his mansion.
“I don’t know how a booster could do what he did for so long without anyone knowing, especially with all the social networking nowadays,” Bubar said.
Bubar is confident USC will be a title contender again in three to five years. Recruiting classes have been highly ranked and only four players transferred. Seantrel Henderson is one who changed his mind and signed with Miami.
“Where did he go? Miami. Where was Paul Dee athletic director? Miami. I guess karma is a funny thing,” said Bubar, who advocates hefty fines for guilty schools and an infractions committee whose members come from outside college programs.
Alabama and Auburn recovered and have won national titles since some ugly times. Auburn defensive end Eric Ramsey recorded conversations revealing that Dye and assistants made improper payments in the early 1990s. Dye, other coaches and booster were barred from any contact with the school. When Ramsey returned to get his diploma, he wore a bulletproof vest to the ceremony. Allegations that Cam Newton’s father sought a bribe didn’t keep Auburn from winning.
Alabama was placed on probation for five years after a booster was found in 2005 to have paid $150,000 to bring Albert Means to Tuscaloosa after Means was shopped around by his high school coach.
Michigan basketball has still not returned to the glory it knew with the Fab Five since four players, including Chris Webber, were found to have received more than $600,000 from booster Ed Martin, who was laundering money from his gambling racket. There was a two-year postseason ban and the humiliating removal of banners from the arena and names from the record books. But the team returned to the NCAA Tournament last year and the football program is percolating again after Rich Rodriguez was replaced and the charges regarding his improprieties were confronted.
“Ohio State self-imposed penalties, but they were criticized as too soft and had to revise to harsher ones. Other schools only ask self-serving questions,” Buckner said. “Contrast that with Michigan. They were open, accessible, reflective, thorough. Their punishment was lighter than I expected.
“I tell my clients it’s easier to tell the truth and vigorously defend yourself than to be evasive.”
Pat Jones, who had to weather the Hart Lee Dykes recruiting scandal as Oklahoma State’s coach, advises total honesty. He told OSU to hire a law firm to get to the bottom of things and said Miami is smart to have done the same.
“I was up-front with recruits, too,” said Jones, a former Dolphins assistant. “We fired the assistant coach who was guilty long before the sanctions. We didn’t mess around.”
Many NCAA cases hinge on the scope of culpability: What did the people in charge know? When did they know it? What did they do about it?
Shapiro appears to have been quite brazen. He even got into a fight with a Miami compliance officer but continued his relationship with the school and players. Contrast that with former Oklahoma quarterback Rhett Bomar, who kept a no-show summer job at a Norman auto dealership but was promptly dismissed from the team.
Covering up rarely works, Sperber said. He compared Shapiro to Michigan’s Martin, who targeted certain players, which gave Michigan coaches and administrators plausible deniability.
“In Miami’s case, it’s so widespread there’s little plausible deniability … plus, all those records from Shapiro,” Sperber said. “The NCAA can’t get players under oath but the lawyers for Shapiro’s Ponzi scheme victims may go after players for restitution, and that means depositions. Unlucky for Miami, they got in bed with a guy who was crazy.”
Some schools don’t recover quickly from NCAA limbo – such as Oklahoma State, which didn’t have a winning season between 1989 and 2001, and Southern Methodist, which was the only school to receive the death penalty, the temporary abolition of its football program. The Mustangs already were on probation when the school was found to have paid players from a slush fund with a chain of knowledge that went all the way to the governor of Texas. SMU had one winning season between 1989 and 2008 but made bowls the past two years.
The damage at SMU reverberated from the field to each student’s diploma. After the penalty was announced, 130 coaches from 80 schools arrived to scoop up players. SMU deemphasized football. The university’s board of governors was disbanded. Enrollment declined. Donations to the Mustang Club dropped from $1.8 million to $400,000 and other sports suffered. In 1997, on the 10-year anniversary of the sanctions, SMU president Gerald Turner said, “As I travel around, as I meet someone, they will say, ‘Oh, yes, that’s the school that got the death penalty.’ ”
If Miami gets penalized, its reputation will get smudged.
“UM has always fought for academic recognition to overcome the Suntan U nickname,” Sperber said. “It’s improved dramatically. But now you could go to a job interview in New York and they say, ‘Tell me about the Hurricanes scandal. What’s up with the strippers on the yacht?’ That’s what Oklahoma grads heard: ‘Tell me about the Uzis in the dorms.’ That’s the power of sports. The casual fan hears the sensational parts.”
But Sperber does not think Miami will receive the death penalty. Nor does he think the football team will suffer for long.
“Throwing the book at Miami flies in the face of people’s current attitudes toward college sports,” Sperber said. “People used to love the myth of a Damon Bailey, the small-town amateur. Now people say, ‘Why not pay them? They’re professional college athletes.’ ”