A paper trail of illegal payments a mile long, parties on million dollar yachts and confessions from nearly everyone involved in the Miami Hurricanes' latest football and basketball snafu—it all should've added up to the NCAA hammer easily coming down on the Hurricanes, right?
Except the exact opposite happened and all the Hurricanes' football program received was a reduction of three scholarships over each of the next three years and three years of probation.
No, seriously, that was Miami's actual punishment that was handed down for a program that was caught red-handed paying recruits and giving all sorts of impermissible benefits to players.
How did they escape the hammer of the NCAA Committee on Infractions then? Simple, by the NCAA being, well, the NCAA as of late.
The Hurricanes can consider themselves lucky on this one—lucky that the NCAA was so inept in the handling of this case that it couldn't do anything to the Hurricanes of consequence despite a trail of guilt a mile long.
Of course the Hurricanes are all taking a page out of the proper PR handbook and not taking a victory lap, with athletic director Blake James issuing the following statement, per the Miami Herald:
Our honest and committed efforts to address these allegations have made us stronger. We have already taken many proactive steps to ameliorate any concerns, and we will continue to improve in all areas. Now it is time we look ahead and work diligently to support our student-athletes.
How ironic and sad is it that the organization that should've been begging for mercy became the organization holding nearly all the cards?
Yet, that's exactly what happened thanks to the NCAA's own investigators being investigated in this case.
The NCAA had the Hurricanes right where they wanted them, dead to rights, caught in the middle of its cross hairs or whatever analogy you'd like to throw around—yet it couldn't close the deal.
It all started with an 11-month long investigation by Yahoo! Sports that uncovered a rampant and blatant disregard for the NCAA's rulebook.
That report, which brought the name of Nevin Shapiro to the forefront of sports talk and columns everywhere, highlighted an alleged culture of coaches, players and administrators knowingly participating or looking the other way in major NCAA rule violations.
Of course there were alleged payments to players and a myriad of all things cool (and impermissible by the NCAA) that could be associated with the Miami lifestyle.
In total, the Yahoo! Sports report came up with thousands of impermissible benefits given to at least 72 different players across the Miami Hurricanes' program.
The NCAA had all the information it needed for its investigation right there in front of it— from bank statements and copies of checks to thousands of hours of taped interviews with key figures and more.
Except for one small detail—its investigators were working with the attorney of Nevin Shapiro and obtained information for its investigation through improper means.
Remember when this little nugget dropped back in January (h/t Yahoo! Sports)?
The NCAA announced that staff members "worked with the criminal defense attorney for Nevin Shapiro to improperly obtain information for the purposes of the NCAA investigation through a bankruptcy proceeding that did not involve the NCAA." Through that proceeding, the NCAA gathered information it would not have been able to get otherwise.
It meant that all of those interviews, especially with key figure Sean Allen, wouldn't be able to be used in the final findings of the investigation...that is unless the NCAA wanted to look forward to a lengthy, costly and PR nightmare of a lawsuit from the Hurricanes.
That's where all of this turned on its head and how we got where we got to on Tuesday morning.
Miami's football program shouldn't even being playing football this season with all the evidence that was readily available, but that isn't the reality we have in front of us today.
Instead, we have Miami rejoicing in the lightest sanctions ever for the most egregious violation of NCAA recruitment and amateurism rules since the days of the "Pony Express."
Instead of receiving near death-penalty, Miami football lost all of three scholarships and two seasons of a self-imposed bowl ban.
Real scary stuff there, huh?
I certainly hope University of Miami president Donna Shalala found time to send a thank you note to the investigators who couldn't follow their own rules, because without their ineptitude, Tuesday would've looked and felt a lot different around the Hurricanes' athletic department.
Only the NCAA could be so inept as to not be able to hand down the obvious punishment for the obvious crime and Miami is one lucky program for it.
*Andy Coppens is the Big Ten Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.