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.
After a review of the allegations against UM, there is little doubt that if proven to be true, the penalties could be substantial. The potential number of former and current players involved, the possible involvement of UM athletics staff and personnel, the amount of benefits possibly received and the duration of time in which these violations possibly occurred would all be detrimental to UM. Furthermore, NCAA President Mark Emmert has ramped up the NCAA’s enforcement efforts and has specifically stated that the NCAA needs to make sure the penalty structure “imposes a thoughtful level of concern, and that the cost of violating the rules costs more than not violating them.” However, even in light of this information, the connection to SMU is difficult to establish.
Specifically, SMU’s track record in 1987 was much worse than the 2011 UM case. SMU had been on probation five times in a 13-year period and was still on probation during both the 1985 and 1987 enforcement cases. Furthermore, the Committee on Infractions in the SMU case made it very clear that SMU had continued to violate NCAA legislation and mislead the NCAA while already on probation. These actions directly undermine the enforcement process.
UM, on the other hand, has been commended by Emmert thus far in the process. Emmert has stated UM “is being extremely cooperative and that is extremely helpful.” If UM continues to cooperate and work with the enforcement staff on their investigation, this will likely be favorable to their outcome. Further, UM has not been on probation since 2005. In order for UM to be considered a repeat violator the NCAA would have to determine that UM was a “willful violator.” This determination would allow the NCAA to look at the allegations beyond the four-year statute of limitations window for NCAA enforcement cases. If the NCAA enforcement staff cannot show that UM had knowledge or should have had knowledge of these allegations, then NCAA Bylaw 32.6.3(b) would not likely be invoked.