Column: NCAA’s handling of Miami no shock

By Sean McCormick

Okay, I’ll bite.

Up until now, I resolved never to write about the NCAA, knowing that USC fans have heard it all — at some point, handwringing and finger-pointing just grow tiresome. But in light of the most recent news regarding the NCAA’s flubbing of the Miami investigation, I believe it’s time to air grievances and explain why the institution is devoid of all credibility and moral authority.

Before introducing the NCAA’s latest embarrassment, let’s review USC’s main contention: The sanctions the football program received in 2010 are not commensurate with any precedent and far exceed recent punishments given out to schools for worse transgressions.

When Ohio State and North Carolina received their laughable sanctions before this past season, I gritted my teeth in absolute disbelief.

To boil it down, former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel knew his players were trading their uniforms and bowl game memorabilia for tattoos. Investigators found emails to attest to that. North Carolina decidedly trumped Ohio State, committing academic fraud by allowing six football players to compete while academically ineligible. On top of this affront to the student-athlete ideal, multiple Tar Heels also received impermissible agent benefits totaling in excess of $31,000.

Though USC didn’t give Reggie Bush any gifts or special treatment, the NCAA said in its ruling that the university lacked institutional control and should have expected agents, who drooled at the running back’s NFL potential, to try to make inroads with the former USC star. Ultimately, USC should have taken more steps to ensure Bush’s amateurism stayed intact, the NCAA argued — without question a fair point. No one can argue intelligently that USC didn’t deserve some type of punishment.

But here comes the kicker: If USC gets punished for not knowing something it probably should have known, what happens when university administrations willfully and brazenly violate NCAA rules? Using some warped sense of logic, the NCAA gave Ohio State and North Carolina half the postseason ban and roughly 30 percent of the scholarship reductions USC received.

Though I should have known better, I still held out hope in the form of Miami. Screwing up the Miami investigation would be too big of a feat, I figured. After all, convicted Ponzi schemer and Miami booster Nevin Shapiro fully admitted to throwing sex and drug yacht parties for Miami recruits and even funding an abortion for one of their girlfriends.

But fortunately for Miami, we learned for certain last Wednesday that the NCAA’s incompetence knows no bounds. NCAA President Mark Emmert announced in a statement that the NCAA Infractions Committee bungled its investigation by mishandling at least two depositions while working with an attorney for Shapiro. In essence, the NCAA worked with Shapiro’s bankruptcy attorney to ask witnesses in his bankruptcy case deposition questions pertaining to the Miami investigation, thus obtaining information — under oath — it could not otherwise get. Let’s just say that the chances this attorney keeps her license are pretty slim.

As a result, the long-anticipated notice of allegations against Miami will not be released until an external review of the investigation occurs within the next two weeks. Emmert confirmed that none of the evidence collected illegally will be used in the report and that some of the investigators are no longer working on the case — what a relief, right?

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to understand why high-power universities subject themselves to the whims of an incompetent institution drowning in inconsistencies. The NCAA currently faces six separate lawsuits stemming from its investigative practices.

The external review will be conducted by former Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein, who will also have the latitude to review the NCAA’s methods in previous cases. Such news should interest Trojan fans because Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Frederick Shaller, who currently presides over former USC assistant football coach Todd McNair’s lawsuit against the NCAA, has indicated his belief that NCAA investigators were “over the top” in the USC case.

But even if USC experiences the best-case scenario, with Wainstein recommending the lifting of its sanctions, there will be little vindication. By the time the review goes through the bureaucratic rigmarole, the only recourse available to the NCAA will be to remove the scholarship reductions scheduled for the 2014 season — the last part of the sanctions.

Of course, USC would welcome such a decision, but the damage has already mostly been done. The only serious retribution will come if the NCAA undergoes serious reform and decides to heed its mission of “commitment to fair play.”

But I would caution USC fans to tamp down expectations. We’ve bet on the NCAA to listen to common sense before.

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