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September 2, 2011

Slap on wrist for Miami? Don't bet on it

A big-time coach is vital to college football success. A big-money booster might be almost as important.

Jimmy Johnson and Les Miles coached at Oklahoma State before winning national championships elsewhere, but the Cowboys never had extended success until T. Boone Pickens started pouring cash into the program by the truckloads.

Oregon had some decent seasons, but didn't surface as a national power until Nike CEO Phil Knight bankrolled the Ducks.

Texas A&M resurfaced as a powerhouse in the '80s after booster Bum Bright ponied up the cash to hire Jackie Sherrill as the then-unheard of sum of $252,000 per year. Really.

Sometimes, though, sometimes the benefactors get drunk with power (as well as Patron), and the next thing you know, sportscasts start looking like the next volume of "Boosters Gone Wild."

The NCAA often steps in to level harsh sanctions on programs that couldn't – or wouldn't – rein in their big-money contributors.

It appears that's about to happen again.

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Miami's punishment?

Is Miami going to get just a slap on the hand like Ohio State did?
Willie in Fort Worth, Texas

The NCAA is not finished with Ohio State, but Miami already may have gotten a tougher deal than Ohio State. Eight Miami players face at least a one-game suspension, while defensive end Olivier Vernon has been suspended for six games and safety Ray Ray Armstrong and tight end Dyron Dye face four-game suspensions.

What a concept: Punishing players by making them sit out the next game.

In Miami's case, that's a conference game against Maryland, which would be a difficult win even if the Hurricanes were at full strength. Remember that the NCAA allowed the five ineligible Ohio State players to compete in the Sugar Bowl and deferred the suspensions until this season. And some wonder why there is a perception that the NCAA is inconsistent in the way it administers its punishment.

But back to your question: If the allegations of convicted felon/former Miami booster Nevin Shapiro, who claims to have provided tens of thousands of dollars in illegal benefits to 72 Hurricanes athletes over an eight-year span, are found to be true, Miami will be looking at a significant loss of scholarships and a postseason ban.

By the way, none of the former Miami players that Shapiro implicated have denied the charges. Rather, they've typically pointed out that he is a convicted felon and that they have put all that in the past and are moving on.

The NCAA typically comes down hard when boosters are involved. In 2000, Alabama received five years of probation, a two-year bowl ban and reduced scholarships over three years for a scandal involving booster Logan Young, who paid a high school coach $150,000 to influence a player to sign with Alabama.

In 1994, Texas A&M received a five-year probation and was banned from appearing on TV or in a postseason game after it was found that booster Warren Gilbert paid nine A&M players about $18,000 for work they did not perform on summer jobs.

In addition, the Paul Dee factor could be taken into account. He served as the chairman of the NCAA Committee on Infractions for the case involving USC's Reggie Bush. USC received a two-year postseason ban and was docked 30 scholarships over three years. Dee's famous statement in the case was that "high-profile athletes demand high-profile compliance."

Well, Dee was Miami's athletic director for much of the period that Shapiro said he was providing illegal benefits. And there is no question that Shapiro was a booster in good standing at Miami. Thus, using Dee's logic that high-profile athletes demand high-profile compliance, Miami will be subject to high-profile sanctions.

I'm betting when all is said and done, Miami's punishment will be harsher than USC's. And that's no slap on the wrist.


Gotta be the shoes

When the police investigated LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson's apartment, they found 49 pairs of athletic shoes. Is anyone checking to see how a scholarship player acquired 49 pairs of shoes? When are teams in the SEC going to be investigated for improper player benefits?
Dan in Meridian, Calif.

Forty-nine pairs of shoes? What's the big deal? I wish my wife had only 49 pairs of shoes.

That detail raised eyebrows for sure. OK, LSU may have provided some, but 49? Look, let's be ultra-conservative and say Jefferson is just college football's version of Imelda Marcos and just has a thing for shoes – even cheap ones. So, for the sake of argument let's say the shoes were just $20 a pair; that's still nearly $1,000 worth of shoes.

I'm not making any accusations; I'm just pointing out that that's a lot of money for shoes. I've even seen it written that perhaps LSU stands for "Lotsa Shoes University." Now, that's not as funny as Steve Spurrier's timeless classic that FSU stands for "Free Shoes University," but it's still pretty good.

Jocularity aside, the shoe issues likely has been looked into by school compliance officials, if not NCAA investigators, but there are priorities. Jefferson and LSU linebacker Josh Johns are facing felony second-degree battery charges stemming from a brawl in which two people were seriously injured. More LSU players eventually could be charged.

Attorneys for Jefferson and Johns maintain their clients are innocent. Those accusations and potential ramifications are rightfully getting all the attention now.

As for investigating teams in the SEC, the NCAA recently put LSU on probation, recently concluded an inquiry into Tennessee and still is looking at Auburn.


SEC West bias

Why do you think South Carolina can't win it all? You guys keep talking up LSU and Alabama when both of them have no proven quarterback. True, the SEC East is down, but you guys make it seem like there is no team in the East that can compete. Why do you think the West is so strong when they have so many unproven players?
Allen in Marshall, S.C.

There are a lot of unproven players in the SEC West. And there also are a lot who are proven, especially defense.

And don't forget that five of the past nine national champions won with a first-year starter at quarterback, including Alabama in 2009 (Greg McElroy) and LSU in 2007 (Matt Flynn).

There is no disrespect directed at South Carolina. The Gamecocks have made tremendous progress under Steve Spurrier. But that's still a program that never has won a SEC title and was absolutely bulldozed in last season's EC championship game appearance.


Going it alone

In terms of the Longhorn Network, don't you think Texas is creating a template that is easily copied? Oklahoma, USC and Michigan have huge fan bases. Isn't it more realistic to think independence is the way of the future?
Greg in Orlando

Independence works for only a handful of teams. Texas has a national following, and the state has three huge television markets (Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio).

I'm not smart enough to be a TV executive, but it seems to me that if independence really worked, more teams would be going that way. Sure, Notre Dame with its national following has been a successful independent. BYU has a national following because of its affiliation with the Mormon church, so its move to independent status could be successful.

But I still believe the future will be about teams moving into "super-conferences" rather than pursuing independent status. Texas officials have said they want to remain in the Big 12. Perhaps BYU will be coaxed into joining the Big 12. We continue to hear speculation that Notre Dame may end up in a conference.

Nobody knows for sure. It's going to be interesting to see how it all works out in the coming years.


Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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