Grab your popcorn and settle in. The heavyweight bout between Miami and the NCAA is only getting started, and it’s clear that both sides are digging in as the pressure begins to mount.
The showdown creates a curious scenario as we wait for the next jab to land. Outside of the unprecedented nature of these rulings—and there very well could be legal ramifications to follow depending on what’s decided—we’re suddenly torn with which side to support.
Or, perhaps we’re not torn at all.
With pitchforks sharpened and torches blazing, the NCAA has become the villain and the focus of the angry mob. I’m as guilty of this as anyone in joining this movement—going as far to say that Mark Emmert needs to be removed as president—but somehow it feels as though some perspective has been lost.
Welcome to the perfect microcosm of college athletics in 2013.
In this corner we have the NCAA—flawed, incompetent, completely unlikable and on the ropes, but unwilling to show it. The NCAA has chosen to take the word of a man behind bars and obtained much of its information improperly. Twenty percent of the evidence uncovered in the investigation can no longer be used because of how it was obtained.
After revealing the inefficiencies of its investigation of Miami in a 52-page report on Monday, we found out that the NCAA had sent Miami its notice of allegations only a day later, according to the AP.
We still don’t know exactly what this entails, but we do know that the feared “lack of institutional control” is included. Although the punishments haven't been clearly outlined, the severity has now been made blatant. Not a surprise given the case, but noteworthy given the circumstances.
In the other corner stands the stoic University of Miami, loud and proud. Despite a laundry list of rules broken and a rogue booster behind bars poised to cripple the athletic program, "The U" appears remarkably confident, at least publicly.
There’s a “People’s Champ” aura surrounding the Hurricanes, a swagger that is felt from the top down. President Donna E. Shalala released a statement shortly after the notice of allegations was received, and it’s clear she’s ready to fight this until the very end (via Miami.edu):
The University of Miami has lived up to those promises, but sadly the NCAA has not lived up to their own core principles. The lengthy and already flawed investigation has demonstrated a disappointing pattern of unprofessional and unethical behavior. By the NCAA leadership's own admission, the University of Miami has suffered from inappropriate practices by NCAA staff. There have also been damaging leaks to the media of unproven charges. Regardless of where blame lies internally with the NCAA, even one individual, one act, one instance of malfeasance both taints the entire process and breaches the public's trust.
The NCAA is keeping its foot on the pedal, regardless of the haziness and questions surrounding the investigation. Although Miami self-imposed two years of bowl bans before the infractions hearing—which will likely come this summer—anything substantial added on could have lawyers in the state of Florida licking their chops.
Despite the substantial evidence that was included in the original and incredible Yahoo! Sports story that implicated more than 70 players, Miami feels like the victim. Despite the detailed talk linking college athletes to yachts, bounties, payments and prostitutes, the public feels more than satisfied to root on the former powerhouse program on the chopping block.
It’s fascinating, really. This backing becomes more and more prevalent—especially on outlets such as Twitter—each time the NCAA releases a statement for Mark Emmert. The NCAA has become the enemy, and many are content to forget what actually happened in Coral Gables.
There’s a clear reason for this, too. For change—true change—to take place, the NCAA must continue to fail. We choose to back a guilty party against the NCAA because of the bigger picture.
Many will argue that the rules broken by the Hurricanes are more or less the product of a fractured system. This is why we’re able to read about the 39 Miami players who reportedly received prostitutes, while still booing Mark Emmert as he took the podium. This is how utterly unlikable the NCAA has become.
Two sides are guilty of many things, but the public support is clearly one-sided.
The long list of violations against Miami is extensive, detailed and abundantly clear. The defense of the Hurricanes vs. the NCAA doesn’t center on clearing up these particulars—those are a given. In fact, defending Miami in this instance comes down to one very simple explanation.
Miami is not the NCAA.
And you know what? It’s hard to argue against that.