By TIM REYNOLDS
CORAL GABLES, Fla. — This stretch of years for Miami athletics will likely be best remembered for the Nevin Shapiro booster scandal and the stigma that came as part of the lengthy NCAA investigation that it sparked.
In the eyes of Hurricanes athletic director Blake James, it could also be remembered for something else.
Even as another year passed under the cloud of the Shapiro mess — which may actually end in the coming weeks, if all goes right for Miami — the Hurricanes emerged with more reasons to be bullish about their future than ever before. One year after sending nine teams to NCAA tournament play, the Hurricanes sent 15 teams there in the academic year that just ended, something Miami officials are touting as a record showing for the school.
“I wouldn’t say it’s as much about where we are,” James said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I would say it’s more about where we can go.”
A printout on the conference table where he sat told the story. It was a simple chart, with the 18 varsity sports that Miami offers listed down the left side of the page, and columns for the last 15 or so years stretched across the top. Baseball — which has been to 41 consecutive NCAA tournaments — had an “X” in each of its columns.
And that program had plenty of company on the NCAA-bound list.
Men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s diving, women’s golf, women’s soccer, women’s swimming and diving, women’s tennis, men’s and women’s indoor track, men’s and women’s outdoor track and volleyball all qualified for NCAA play. Football, had it not been subjected to a self-imposed postseason ban for a second straight year because of the Shapiro scandal, would have made it 16 teams on that list.
Out of a possible 18, James knows it was a good year, even though while it was happening the Hurricanes themselves weren’t exactly aware of the significance of it all. James said he half-seriously asked one of his staff members this spring if every Miami team during this academic year had been NCAA-bound, and a quick check of the records showed the Hurricanes were closer to that goal than ever before.
“When I look at this and see the success we had in putting teams in postseason, and recognizing that number would be bigger if not for the self-imposed situation with football, it has me excited,” James said. “It gives me even more confidence that this program can be one of the truly special ones in college athletics.”
Even though the summer is now in full swing, it still might be considered a somewhat unnerving time for Miami athletics.
There’s plenty of optimism about what awaits this fall, especially with football — which, if not for the self-imposed ban, would have been in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game last season — expected to be in the mix for the ACC title. By the time the Hurricanes open camp, there is a chance that the Shapiro scandal might essentially be a thing of the past.
Last month, Miami had its hearing before the NCAA Committee on Infractions to address all the Shapiro-related wrongdoing that was found during an investigation that dragged on for about two years. There is no due date for that committee to deliver its decision, though school officials left that hearing with a sense that they would get the long-awaited word sooner than later.
It’s possible that the Hurricanes could receive the decision from the NCAA around the start of football training camp early next month.
“We don’t just want to have a good season,” Hurricanes football coach Al Golden said. “We’re trying to build a program. For us, it’s not just about getting through the NCAA thing.”
True, though that is a big part of Miami’s future. If the NCAA imposes tough sanctions, on top of the ones Miami has already applied to itself, the Hurricanes could feel ramifications for years.
There is a sense of optimism at Miami that the worst is over, at least when it comes to the Shapiro mess. A new athletics center is set for a formal grand opening in October, recruiting for several key sports is going particularly well, and James is hoping that the momentum generated by the 15 NCAA trips from this past year carries over into 2013-14.
“We’ve never had the collection of individuals we have in place now,” James said. “While obviously this year was a special year, and if the numbers are right it looks like our best year ever, I think we can even get better.”