The national media has covered the NCAA enforcement investigation of the University of Miami athletics program with great interest since last week. Yahoo! Sports reported Nevin Shapiro, a former Miami booster who is serving a 20-year prison sentence for operating a $930 million Ponzi scheme, allegedly provided impermissible benefits to approximately 72 UM football student-athletes and other student-athletes between 2002 and 2010. One of the most commonly asked questions has been what kind of penalties the institution and football program could be facing and whether the “death penalty” is an option.
The Michael L. Buckner Law Firm, through a three-part series, will review the applicability of the “death penalty” to the current University of Miami enforcement case. Part I will provide a look into what the “death penalty” is and how it is applied. Part II will revisit the Committee on Infractions decision in the 1987 Southern Methodist University (SMU) enforcement case in which the “death penalty” was applied. Part III will compare the allegations against the University of Miami with the facts of the 1987 SMU enforcement case.
On February 25, 1987, the NCAA Committee on Infractions delivered what has been referred to as the “death penalty” to the SMU football program. The committee stated subsequent to the conclusion of SMU’s NCAA infractions case in 1985, “certain key athletic department staff members agreed that promises made to student-athletes prior to the 1984-85 academic year during the young men’s recruitment should continue to be fulfilled. Previous cash payments to the student-athletes had gone undetected by the NCAA, and the involved staff members agreed to continue the payments and to distribute them to the young men.” The result of these payments was 13 SMU football student-athletes receiving payments during the 1985-86 academic year that totaled approximately $47,000, and 8 SMU football student-athletes continuing to receive payments from September through December 1986 that totaled approximately $14,000. These payments were made from funds provided by an outside representative of SMU’s athletics interests.
The penalties handed down to the program were severe and included:
- cancellation of the 1987 football season (only conditioning practices were permitted until the spring of 1988);
- cancellation of all 1988 home football games (SMU ultimately chose to not play any 1988 away games as well citing the inability to field a competitive team);
- extension of the existing probationary period to 1990;
- extension of the existing bowl ban to 1989;
- extension of the existing television ban to 1989;
- a loss of 55 scholarships over four years;
- a ban on off-campus recruiting until August 1988; and
- a ban on paid visits to campus until the start of the 1988-90 academic year.
One interesting fact to note is that the NCAA Committee on Infractions chose to decline the recommendations from the university and the NCAA enforcement staff and instead called for more substantial penalties. The committee noted their penalties were intended to “eliminate a program that was built on a legacy of wrongdoing, deceit and rules violations, the penalties were also intended to permit a new beginning for football at [SMU].”
The major factors the committee considered while making their decision included:
- the committee’s belief that the membership had made clear through the adoption of new legislation that “serious repeat violators are to receive heavy penalties”;
- SMU’s past record of violations was “nothing short of abysmal.” The committee cited the fact that SMU was already under probation for previous serious violations during both the 1985 and 1987 enforcement cases. Further, the committee stated the violations demonstrated that “key staff members and outside representatives have been committed to achieving athletics success through deliberate and flagrant violations of fundamental NCAA rules”;
- SMU had requested the committee to grant relief from an earlier penalty at the same time key athletics department staff members knew that the cheating which caused the penalty was still ongoing and those individuals deliberately failed to disclose this fact;
- SMU made assurances during the 1985 enforcement case that all known violations had been disclosed, and efforts were being made to ensure violations did not occur in the future. These assurances were false; and
- the continuing source of the funds for the violations found in this case were being supplied by a university booster who SMU had assured the committee during the 1985 enforcement case had been disassociated from the SMU athletics program. Further, key athletics department staff members had requested to the booster that these payments continue.