By JIM LITKE
Turns out that apology the NCAA was shamed into little more than a month ago regarding the University of Miami didn’t go nearly far enough.
The higher-ups almost certainly knew that, and likely didn’t care. Because even as they were apologizing for one unsavory stunt, they remained tight-lipped about another.
Remember all that as you watch the rest of the basketball tournament, which provides nearly every penny of the NCAA’s annual operating budget, and a chance for the organization to promote itself during the commercial breaks.
That way, when “One Shining Moment” begins playing, it will make you wish somebody was actually shining a light on what an inept and unethical body the NCAA has become during the brief reign of president Mark Emmert.
Back in February, the NCAA released a report from an outside law firm it hired to look at how its own investigation into shenanigans at Miami’s football program was conducted. Not surprisingly, the verdict was — wait for it — miserable.
The report focused on the NCAA’s lack of effective oversight, and most of it centered around the rogue behavior of several members of its enforcement staff. Conveniently, it also found that no NCAA laws or bylaws were violated, giving president Mark Emmert and any staff members who hadn’t been fired, forced out, resigned or retired by that point an excuse to hang onto their jobs.
Instead of being chastened, though, the NCAA then went ahead and leveled the dreaded “lack of institutional control” charge at Miami the very next day. Why it took so long for the NCAA to arrive at that conclusion in a case stretching back to 2010 is cause for speculation. But if you combed through the report from the law firm Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, you’ll see the NCAA was engaged in a few shenanigans of its own, most outrageously by paying the lawyer of imprisoned Miami booster and convicted Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro to help them gather evidence against the school.
As if that display of chutzpah wasn’t enough, Emmert responded to questions about the report by quickly glossing over the accusation that “certain investigative tactics” the NCAA employed were clearly beyond its jurisdiction. Next, he addressed a question about whether the report had damaged the NCAA’s credibility by rushing to his own defense.
“The damage is, first of all, for those people who were already skeptical or cynics, this feeds into their cynicism,” he said.
Turns out us skeptics weren’t skeptical enough, either.
According to a report in the Miami Herald, the university will accuse the NCAA of further misconduct later this week in an attempt to get the infractions case against the school dismissed.
The Herald report said a second investigator the NCAA used in the Miami case — Stephanie Hannah, a 20-year NCAA veteran who replaced Ameen Najjar, who was fired — tried to use the similar tactics. She asked Shapiro’s lawyer, Maria Elena Perez, to extract information damaging to the university from his bodyguard, Mario Sanchez. Cadwalader attorney Ken Wainstein told the newspaper that little tidbit never found its way into the law firm’s report because it concluded that Hannah assumed the NCAA had already blessed the earlier deal between Najjar and Perez.
Sometimes, apparently, two wrongs do make a right. And we’re going to be reminded of that again come June, when the NCAA puts on its case during a full hearing.
There’s no doubt plenty of improper benefits were handed out to players during Shapiro’s tenure as a sideline sycophant. But it’s hard to see how the NCAA is going to justify piling any more sanctions onto those that Miami self-inflicted.
Miami president Donna Shalala fired a warning shot in the organization’s direction back in February, and she’s become bolder every day since.
“We have suffered enough,” Shalala said at the time. “Many of the charges brought forth are based on the word of a man who made a fortune by lying.”
Now she knows the NCAA tried to dip into that poisoned well to prejudice the case not once, but at least twice. According to the Herald report, the school will also allege that NCAA investigators lied to interview subjects about what other people who were interviewed said, trying to trick them into revealing even more incriminating evidence.
It’s hard to root for Miami to get off with time served. But that looks more likely with each report tearing into the NCAA’s M.O., and the threats circulating around the Miami campus about a court challenge are picking up steam.
Defending the NCAA in this instance is a waste of breath.
Anyway, this time of year it’s focused on its main purpose — making money. And the NCAA will never, ever apologize for that.
Reach Jim Litke at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.