College Football: A New Death Penalty for a New Era

David Luther@@davidrlutherFeatured ColumnistAugust 24, 2011

Disgraced booster Nevin Shapiro on the field during pregame introductions at Miami (Photo: Miami Herald)
Disgraced booster Nevin Shapiro on the field during pregame introductions at Miami (Photo: Miami Herald)

With the media storm now surrounding the explosive scandal at the University of Miami, there has been a lot of talk about the NCAA and the dreaded “death penalty” for a program that has a history of repeat violations unmatched by anyone in the nation.

The University of Miami's transgressions over the years have been well-chronicled by the media, and there aren't many college football fans who aren't familiar with “The U” and their utter disregard for the rules that govern college football and the NCAA.

When Nevin Shapiro dropped his nuclear bomb on Miami, the reaction around the nation was almost universally critical of Miami. But unlike the anger directed at wayward programs like USC and Ohio State, the Miami fiasco has evoked a response best described as resignation.

Is anyone really surprised this happened at Miami?

After all, this is the program that has perpetrated a Pell Grant scandal, defrauding tax payers. This is the program that has had more than its fair share of run-ins with drugs, alcohol, and prostitution. Heck, is there any other program that has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline calling for the cancellation of the program?

Thankfully, the media has spared most of the offending players from ridicule and blame. Who really expects an 18-year-old kid to turn down the type of goodies Shapiro was offering? The disgust has rightly been focused on the administration at Miami, and all signs point to the fact that the wrongdoing goes right to the top—university president Dr. Donna Shalala.

We need to face facts.

The real criminals, other than convicted felon Shapiro, who is serving a 20-year prison sentence for his illicit ponzi scheme, are the administration at Miami. They willingly took in Shapiro, cashed his checks, gave him access to the program no booster should ever have at any university, and completely ignored the ethics of the man behind the money.

One would think that with Miami's track record, they would do a little due diligence before accepting a person into their inner circle. But Miami was blinded by dollar signs, and shamefully ignored all-too-obvious signs of wrong-doing on Shapiro's part.

Then again, given Miami's track record, we shouldn't be surprised Miami and its administration didn't care where the money came from.

So what now? Where do we go from here? What should the NCAA do?

The NCAA's infamous “death penalty” has been handed out five times, but only once has a top-tier football program (what we now call the FBS) received the ultimate NCAA punishment.

When SMU's program was shuttered in the 1980's, it was a jolt to the entire membership of the NCAA. Never before had such an event taken place.

Is it possible we've seen the last of Hurricanes football for a while? (Photo: Getty Images)
Is it possible we've seen the last of Hurricanes football for a while? (Photo: Getty Images)

At the time, SMU was one of the top programs in the nation. The Mustangs were a recruiting magnet, attracting the best high school prospects in Texas and from across the nation. SMU was winning bowl games and conference championships in a top-flight conference (Southwest Conference).

There's really no argument that SMU deserved the death penalty. Not only was SMU continually violating NCAA rules, they had refused to change their shady practices even after they had been caught and sanctioned.

But what came after the death penalty has shown the nation that the ultimate punishment should only be used in the most extreme of circumstances.

SMU, a proud program with rich tradition, was transformed overnight from a national power into a program that suffered through two decades of futility. SMU's football program was utterly destroyed and still hasn't recovered, more than twenty years later.

Would destroying the Miami program be worth it? What purpose would it serve? Is there a better way?

The world of college athletics is a far different place in 2011 than it was in 1987. While college football programs certainly generated money in the 1980's, it was nowhere near the level of revenue enjoyed by university athletic programs today. The television contracts alone are worth many millions of dollars to schools like Miami.

These millions not only flow back into the football program, but also help many other student-athletes, such as the swimming and diving team, the softball team, and the wrestling team—programs that most certainly do not bring in money for the institution.

New Miami head coach Al Golden was reportedly hired by Miami without being told of the ongoing issues and investigations surrounding the Shapiro scandal. (Photo: Getty Images)
New Miami head coach Al Golden was reportedly hired by Miami without being told of the ongoing issues and investigations surrounding the Shapiro scandal. (Photo: Getty Images)

Miami deserves some major punishment. If any team fits the criteria for suffering the death penalty, it's easily Miami.

Shuttering the program, however, just simply won't have the desired result, unless that result is to kill Miami athletics for the next two to three decades. What needs to happen isn't death, it's suffering. Miami needs to suffer the consequences of their actions. The best way to do that is to hit Miami in the pocketbook now sullied by Shapiro's filthy money.

One punishment that hasn't been used by the NCAA recently is the television ban. There's no reason Miami shouldn't suffer this humiliation. Taking the Hurricanes off television not only hurts their profile immediately, it lowers their chances to attract top recruits over the next several seasons.

Kids these days want to be on television. They want to showcase their skills in front of a national audience. If they can't do that at Miami, they'll go somewhere else.

The television ban would also punish Miami when it comes to non-conference scheduling. You wouldn't see teams like Ohio State (2011) or Florida (2013) or Notre Dame (2012 and 2017) or Nebraska (2014 and 2015) on the schedule. Instead, teams like Toledo, Wyoming, and New Mexico will be all Miami can attract.

Beyond television bans, it's probably clear Miami will be prohibited from participating in the post-season for at least the next several seasons. That means no ACC Championships, and no bowl games (much less BCS bowls). All of that equals less money and lowered prestige.

Since Miami probably won't be attracting top talent anyway, there's no reason why the Hurricanes' scholarship limit shouldn't be lowered for a few seasons.

Miami hasn't shown any maturity or responsibility with the 85 scholarship players they have now. You don't buy your child a dog until they prove they can take care of the goldfish—and Miami has clearly done a poor job of taking care of that goldfish.

The NCAA needs to get involved with Miami's booster program. Miami is obviously unwilling to police themselves, and completely lacking in any moral compass when it comes to money.

The Hurricanes should be forced to survive on a bare-bones budget, and there shouldn't be anyone involved with the program that isn't absolutely necessary. Many Miami boosters will probably be scared away anyhow, so it shouldn't be too difficult to shoo away the rest. How could this new and novel step be taken? Simple. Miami agrees, or no football.

Finally, Miami's NCAA Compliance Office must be given carte blanche when it comes to investigation and control over the football program. Miami should no longer rely on members of the football program “self-reporting” and the NCAA clearly can't trust the university to pass on any information regarding suspected violations.

The Compliance Office should be conducting daily visits to the football facilities, and new head coach Al Golden should have an open-door policy with anyone from the NCAA or Miami's Compliance Office.

When these actions are taken, Miami will still have a football program, but it will be so restrained there won't be much room to breathe, much less break the rules. It will have the effect of punishing the program without killing it.

Make Miami feel the pain. Closing the program hurts only in the short term, and it hurts the innocent more than the guilty.

In the end, whatever the NCAA decides, Miami is in for a world of (well-deserved) hurt.