If you look beyond the salacious details — strippers and prostitutes and a booster-funded abortion and a Ponzi scheme to boot — you’ll find that the crux of this Miami case is positively old-school. Since Biblical times, the zest for money has been identified as the root of all evil. Why else would a proud university turn its head as it allowed a rogue like Nevin Shapiro to stand on its sideline, wear its colors and pay for its athletes to engage in sexual congress?
Forget everything else in the celebrated Yahoo! Sports report by Charles Robinson. (Actually, don’t forget it. If you haven’t read it, please do.) Just scroll down a bit. See the second picture from the top? That’s Shapiro in the middle, wearing a Miami polo shirt. That’s Frank Haith, who was once the Hurricanes’ basketball coach, on the left. And that person standing on the right, gazing down at a small piece of paper in her hands?
That’s Donna Shalala, Miami’s president. She served as Secretary of Health and Human Services in Bill Clinton’s cabinet. She has the reputation of being high-minded. But what’s she examining in the photo?
A check. From Shapiro, who now sits in a federal jail. To her university’s basketball program. For $50,000.
Try as it might, the NCAA will never legislate around the great disconnect of the major collegiate sports: That these games, supposedly played by amateurs, are in truth major businesses. College football and basketball are not non-profit endeavors. College football and basketball run on money. That money has to come from somewhere.
NCAA president Mark Emmert issued a statement Wednesday: “If the assertions are true, the alleged conduct at the University of Miami is an illustration of the need for serious and fundamental change in many critical aspects of college sports.”
Sounds good. But what “fundamental change” does he have in mind? Cloistering all players and recruits? Doing away with unprofitable sports — try squaring that with Title IX — so there’s no need to cultivate and coddle a moneyed sleaze? Stop keeping score in games so TV will cease paying to broadcast them and fans will no longer buy tickets?
Paul Dee, the former Miami athletic director who was once — oh, the irony! — chairman of the NCAA’s committee on infractions, has said of Shapiro: “We didn’t have any indication he was doing anything like this. He didn’t do anything to cause concern.”
A delicious note from Robinson’s report:
During the final game in the Orange Bowl in 2007, with the Hurricanes being embarrassed 31-0 at the half against Virginia, Shapiro, intoxicated, said he confronted Miami’s head of compliance, David Reed. According to a witness to the event, an incensed Shapiro was stalking through the Orange Bowl press box at halftime when he spotted Reed.
In a rage, Shapiro began cursing at the compliance director, calling him a “sissy” and other derogatory names, while attempting to draw him into a fight. In Shapiro’s mind, Reed was part of the problem in a slumping Miami program, largely for what Shapiro thought was too much oversight on relationships between players and boosters.
You’d think a booster challenging a compliance director to a fight in a press box would be an “indication” that the booster might not hold the university’s best interests at heart. Sure enough, Robertson reports, a Miami assistant AD called Shapiro soon afterward to say the school had run a background check and had found he was part-owner of a sports agency. Immediate disassociation, right?
Nah. According to Robinson’s report, the assistant AD “assured the booster he wasn’t going to come under any additional scrutiny.”
Paul Dee was heading the athletic department then. He was succeeded by Kirby Hocutt, who’s now AD at Texas Tech. An unnamed source told the Associated Press: “His No. 1 job was to raise money, and this Nevin Shapiro guy was one of the few people Kirby could get to write checks.”
You’ll never guess what Hocutt, speaking of Shapiro, told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. (Actually, you will.) “Did we have knowledge of it? No. Heavens no.”
Nobody at Miami knew anything, except that Shapiro’s checks keep clearing. The man gave $150,000 to the “U” and had a players’ lounge named after him. Yes, he’s a convicted felon — he’s incarcerated in Atlanta — and can’t be considered the most trustworthy of sources. But why would a school allow a figure of such surpassing shadiness to hobnob with its players in the first place?
Because he had money. The details of the Miami storm might be different, but these don’t-ask-don’t-tell shenanigans have been ongoing since before Nevin Shapiro was born. The greatest run in big-time collegiate sports had its own enabler. Sam Gilbert was a contractor who, oddly enough, was indicted on racketeering charges four days after he died in 1987. He was known as “Papa Sam” to the UCLA Bruins who took 10 NCAA titles in 12 seasons. (I once spoke to Gilbert, and even on a speakerphone from the West Coast he was Machiavellian in his chortling.)
In 1981 the Los Angeles Times ran an investigative series regarding the dark side of the dynasty, and these were the conclusions reached by writers Mike Littwin and Alan Greenberg:
[UCLA coach John] Wooden knew about Gilbert. He knew the players were close to Gilbert. He knew they looked to Gilbert for advice. Maybe he knew more. He should have known much more. If he didn’t, it was only because he apparently chose not to look.
Even as we recoil at the revelations from Miami, we should know that it has been ever thus. To borrow from a song from “Cabaret,” money makes the world go around. For both better and worse, college athletics are part of our imperfect world.
By Mark Bradley