NCAA Embarrassed Itself with Lengthy, Botched Investigation into Miami

Adam KramerNational College Football Lead WriterOctober 22, 2013

CHAPEL HILL, NC - OCTOBER 17:  The Miami Hurricanes celebrate with the fans after defeating the North Carolina Tar Heels during their game at Kenan Stadium on October 17, 2013 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

798 days.

That’s how long it took the NCAA to publish a decision regarding its Miami investigation following the release of Yahoo! Sports’ in-depth investigation of rogue booster Nevin Shapiro. And although the NCAA got it right—choosing not to bury the Hurricanes program much deeper after all this time—it had no other choice.

The damage has been done. Miami has certainly felt the effects, operating with an enormous black cloud overhead for more than two years and sitting out two bowl games. But this will likely be even more destructive for the NCAA, which has watched its tarnished reputation spiral downward with each passing week—114 in total.

It’s to the point where there might not be a reputation to damage. The whole thing feels too far gone.

The good news, however, is that it’s over. The time line for this case actually stretches well beyond Yahoo!’s initial report, all the way back to November of 2009 when the NCAA first learned of Miami’s internal investigation. For perspective on how long it has been, The Black Eyed Peas ear-bloodying song "I Gotta Feeling" was still a billboard hit on the radio waves.

On Tuesday, the NCAA concluded that Miami lacked institutional control. It did not extend the bowl ban any longer and hit the Hurricanes with a modest reduction in scholarships—nine over the next three seasons. Probation and punishment for individual coaches was also included, although the majority of the damage was self-imposed before the NCAA officially stepped in.

The committee acknowledged and accepted the extensive and significant self-imposed penalties by the university. Additional penalties in this case include a three-year probation period; a reduction in the number of football and men’s basketball scholarships; recruiting restrictions; a five-game suspension for the former head men’s basketball coach; and two-year show-cause orders for two former assistant football coaches and a former assistant men’s basketball coach. If these individuals are employed at an NCAA member school during these two years, they and their current or future employer must appear before the Committee on Infractions to determine if the coach should have his duties limited.

Although the punishments will be slightly extended, the Hurricanes have decided not to fight this any longer after a strong public pushback along the way. Miami already accepted the NCAA’s sanctions as first reported by the AP’s Tim Reynolds, thus officially moving beyond the mess.

The NCAA has been told Miami accepts its sanctions. No appeal from Hurricanes. This saga, by and large, ends today.

— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) October 22, 2013

This is all fantastic news for head coach Al Golden, who is currently leading an undefeated team situated at No. 7 in the initial BCS rankings. It can now (finally) move ahead, and the result should be a boom in recruiting and overall program morale. At the moment, even when the possibility of further sanctions were looming, the morale was already quite positive.

The added sanctions, while light on the surface, didn’t paint the all-encompassing picture of time served. Miami sat out three postseason games—two bowls and a visit to the ACC Championship Game—and also reduced paid recruiting visits along the way. This was all self-imposed, however, which makes the NCAA’s work seem insignificant.

In many ways, Miami did the heavy lifting, punishing itself and waiting for a nod of approval. At this point, the NCAA is in no position to take yet another public PR hit, so it had no choice but to nod back.

Of course, the NCAA also spent a great deal of this time investigating itself for improperly gathering information relevant to the Miami case. While breaking its own rules to gather info, it lost all leverage that it had, if any remained.

Britton Banowsky, the chair of the NCAA Committee on Infractions, said that these information-gathering “missteps” did not play into Tuesday’s announcement while speaking to the media, according to ESPN’s Joe Schad.

NCAA COI says admitted enforcement missteps were not a factor in the penalty severity

— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) October 22, 2013

At this point how can anyone—after all this time—possibly accept this to be the case? Even if this was the case, the NCAA has lost all benefit of the doubt. Not just with this specific incident, but in enforcement decisions going forward.

There are no guidelines in place, and no blueprint to outline whether the NCAA got it right. This became evident when it ruled on Penn State twice before it ever got to Miami. The NCAA delivered unprecedented sanctions for Penn State following the Jerry Sandusky scandal, and it delivered another unprecedented decision when it reduced its heavy-handed sanctions a short time ago.

After nearly four years, Miami finally learned its fate. In doing so, it will be able to move beyond the mess that hovered above for far longer than it should have. The program will likely thrive going forward, as it is doing in 2013.

The same can’t be said for the NCAA, which has created far more questions than it has answered. The investigation into Miami brought much to attention, not regarding the program that ran wild for years, but the governing body unable to enforce its own rules.