NCAA Rules: Nevin Shapiro, The University Of Miami And The Coming Apocalypse

While most of us were either celebrating the UK-Dominican Republic UK public relations tour de force in the Red Chicken Ranch KFC Yum! Center last night, or doing other things unrelated to sports activity, Yahoo! Sports was busily breaking a very sordid story about a convicted Ponzi schemer named Nevin Shapiro who allegedly bought the Miami Hurricanes as though it were a professional team early last decade, and claims he did some wicked things like paying Hurricane players "bounties" for hurting opponents.  This man is unquestionably a very bad person, and cannot whatsoever be taken at his word.

This Nevin Shaprio is not an "alleged" criminal, he is a convicted, admitted perpetrator of a massive fraud scheme.  Shapiro, unlike alleged Ponzi-schemer David Salinas, was an equal-opportunity evil-doer, counting retirees and other vulnerable people among his victims, not just multi-millionaire coaches.  Also unlike the now-deceased Salinas, Shapiro has been tried, convicted and imprisoned.  His crimes are a matter of fact, not accusation.

Which brings us to the next very important point, which is the reason he is "coming clean."  He is doing it unabashedly and admittedly for revenge against people he used to associate with:

Why’s he doing it? Why is one of the most passionate Miami fans willing to kill Miami? Because he’s in here, his old friends (players, coaches, administrators) are out there and almost none of them will take his call anymore.

...

"We always said we were family," Shapiro said. "Be consistent with me. Don’t take my money when you need help and then turn your back when I need help. This is what boys do for each other."

Leaving aside the risible suggestion that any of the funds Salinas claims he used to ply these athletes with can be accurately described as "[his] money," this guy is naming names now purely out of spite and bitterness.  He was caught breaking the law, and is now merrily lashing out at every person he thinks he can harm for the most base and despicable of reasons -- revenge for his former associates understandable failure to associate with him any longer after he got caught and punished.

Just how much NCAA lawlessness are we talking about here?

As Shapiro tells it, for much of the 2000s Miami football was a de facto professional team and he was the owner. He said the NCAA investigators he’s been working with have compared it to the 1986 case against Southern Methodist, which led to the only "death penalty" punishment in history.

That's about as spectacular as it gets, but keep in mind, this is not the NCAA talking -- this is a convict describing conversations with them, a convict with a grudge almost as big his his frauds.

If it sounds like I am skeptical of Shapiro, I am, and you should be as well.  That doesn't mean he isn't telling the truth, but we have to be fair and remember that this man got here by ... well, by telling really huge, unabashed lies, and taking him at his word just because it seems plausible or fits our preconceived notions is not a good idea.

Unfortunately, however, some of Shapiro's claims are proving to be at least factually defensible by documentary or unnamed third party corroboration.  That doesn't mean all of them are true, of course, but at least some of them appear to be.

Which brings me to another twist in this story -- a current Louisville Cardinals assistant coach, defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Clint Hurtt, is accused by Shapiro of being involved and knowing about all this rule breaking while he was an assistant at Miami.  Yahoo! sports has an article on Hurtt's involvement, including this:

One source corroborated Shapiro having paid for bills for Hurtt and a large group of athletes at Café Grazie on two occasions. The source said that on each occasion, Shapiro called the restaurant and made the owners aware that Hurtt would be bringing a large group in for a meal, with explicit instructions that the bills be charged to the booster’s American Express black card.

There is more, including what Shapiro says documented proof of a $5,000 personal loan to Hurtt -- a $2,500 check written to him.  If so, that could be an NCAA violation, as is the meal above that has been corroborated by an unnamed source.  What is not yet clear is whether or not Hurtt paid back the loan with or without interest.  If it was interest-free, then Hurtt is likely in trouble.

Finally, there is the question of timing.  According to my understanding and this lawyerly piece, the allegations of wrongdoing occurred between 2002 and 2010.  The NCAA apparently was contacted about this matter circa March of last year, which means that is the earliest they likely could have opened up an investigation.  According to NCAA rules, there is a four-year statute of limitations on violations, which begins to be tolled from the day that the investigation is opened.

That statute of limitations contains major exceptions, however, and how they apply to this case will be important, but giving the sheer volume of claims, perhaps not dispositive.  Here's what the rule says:

32.6.3 Statute of Limitations. Allegations included in a notice of allegations shall be limited to possible violations occurring not earlier than four years before the date the notice of inquiry is forwarded to the institution or the date the institution notifies (or, if earlier, should have notified) the enforcement staff of its inquiries into the matter. However, the following shall not be subject to the four-year limitation: (Revised: 10/12/94, 4/24/03)

(a) Allegations involving violations affecting the eligibility of a current student-athlete;

(b) Allegations in a case in which information is developed to indicate a pattern of willful violations on the part of the institution or individual involved, which began before but continued into the four-year period; and

(c) Allegations that indicate a blatant disregard for the Association’s fundamental recruiting, extra-benefit, academic or ethical-conduct regulations or that involve an effort to conceal the occurrence of the violation. In such cases, the enforcement staff shall have a one-year period after the date information concerning the matter becomes available to the NCAA to investigate and submit to the institution a notice of allegations concerning the matter. [my emphasis]

As you can see, there is a lot there that could allow conduct prior to March of 2006 to be considered as relevant as something that occurred in 2009, like Hurtt's alleged conduct.

From my perspective, there is enough proof so far to place Louisville on high alert in Hurtt's case.  You have to expect the NCAA will want to look into Hurtt's recruiting at Louisville, at minimum.  Some proof has been provided, and Hurtt is not looking particularly pristine at the moment.  I am a huge believer in "innocent until proven otherwise," but Louisville has to worry about the damage to their reputation if they just clam up and do nothing, as they have done so far.  I'm sure they are actively dealing with this matter in house as we speak, though.

For Miami, if even a tiny portion of Shapiro's accusations are true, they are chest-deep in doo-doo and sinking fast.  In my personal opinion, there is almost no way that violations on this scale could happen if their compliance program was even close to par, and if they prove to be supportable, the statute of limitations could be completely useless to them as a defense.

The NCAA is going to be very busy down in Coral Gables for a while, it seems.

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