Monday, December 26, 2011

College Athletics 2011 – Scandalous

The year that was for college athletics isn’t quite over. With bowl games filling the holiday week, college sports hopes to take a respite from what can only be called one of the worst years in the history of the NCAA.

Allegations of child sex abuse dominated headlines over the last few months, but earlier in the year the Fiesta Bowl and football programs at Ohio State, North Carolina, and the University of Miami were each under the microscope for various infractions.

Former University of Miami booster Nevin Shapiro, serving 20-years for being at the center of a $930 million South Florida based Ponzi scheme, became the central figure in a Yahoo Sports investigative report that looked at Shapiro making improper payments to football and basketball players at the University of Miami between 2002 and 2010. According to the Yahoo report Shapiro made more than $2 million in illegal payments to Hurricane athletes during the eight-year period.

Shapiro believed his involvement was a direct continuation of Luther Campbell's activities. Campbell, like Shapiro, loved being close to Miami’s football program. In 1993, Campbell threatened to go public with various violations relating to the football program if Ryan Collins, a black player, wasn't named their starting quarterback.

Campbell was interviewed about his involvement with the Miami Hurricanes for the documentary The U, which aired on ESPN in 2009.

In an interview with Yahoo! Sports, Shapiro said: “Here’s the thing: Luther Campbell was the first uncle who took care of players before I got going. His role was diminished by the NCAA and the school, and someone needed to pick up that mantle. That someone was me. He was ‘Uncle Luke,’ and I became ‘Little Luke.’”

Soon after Shapiro’s world fell apart, he reached out to many of the players he had allegedly offered gifts too. After none of the athletes returned his calls Shapiro contacted Yahoo Sports to tell his story.

The NCAA has yet to conclude their investigation of the University of Miami. Many so-called college athletic pundits believed Miami could receive the death penalty (having their program banned for at least one year). That isn’t expected to take place and, unlike Ohio State, Miami announced they would not attend a bowl game this year.

While Miami’s decision won’t impact what sanctions the NCAA could impose, it appears Miami is prepared to accept penalties for what happened.

Last Tuesday, Ohio State was cited by the NCAA for failure to monitor preferential treatment and extra benefit violations in its football program. Former Head Coach Jim Tressel also was found to have engaged in unethical conduct for not reporting NCAA rule violations.

Ohio State will play in the Gator Bowl on January 2. The Buckeyes won’t be playing in a bowl game in 2012, face three years of additional probation and have lost nine football scholarships. As for Jim Tressel, he was fired.

When the penalties were handed down last week, Ohio State President Gordon Gee offered a few gems: "I think we stumbled out of the gate. I think we made mistakes initially. I think we did not get a strong start. I think we gathered ourselves and put together a good approach, and I think from that point on I think we've done very well."

The one who really stumbled and, in fact fell flat on his face, was Tressel. Tressel was first contacted by Columbus attorney Christopher T. Cicero, a former Ohio State walk-on player in the 1980s, and says he has been told that current Buckeyes players have been selling signed memorabilia to tattoo parlor owner Edward Rife, who is under federal investigation by the U.S. attorney's office.

Not only did Tressel ignore Cicero but, on September 13, 2010, Tressel signed an annual NCAA certificate of compliance form indicating he knows of no violations and has reported to the school any knowledge of possible violations. Given that Cicero and Tressel had exchanged more than a dozen emails after Cicero first contacted him on April 2, 2010, it would appear indeed Tressel never got out of the gate in trying to deal with the truth.

On the eve of the start of North Carolina’s 2011 football training camp, the school announced they were firing Butch Davis as head football coach. North Carolina’s football program came under fire in 2010 after ESPN broke a story that several North Carolina football players, notably San Francisco 49er Kentwan Balmer, had accepted money from agents while they were students at North Carolina.

North Carolina’s problems extended to nine football players and their relationship with a tutor. A source told ESPN that these former players might have had papers written by this tutor.
Somehow Davis managed to field a competitive football team in 2010 and even won a bowl game but the school waited until days before the start of their 2011 football training camp to fire him.

"Our academic integrity is paramount, and we must work diligently to protect it," North Carolina chancellor Holden Thorp said in a statement. "The only way to move forward and put this behind us is to make a change."

"I can honestly say I leave with the full confidence that I have done nothing wrong," Davis said. "I was the head coach and I realize the responsibility that comes with that role. But I was not personally involved in, nor aware of, any actions that prompted the NCAA investigation."

The NCAA met with North Carolina officials in late October and are expected to announced what sanctions the school will face in the next 30 days.

In 2010 the NCAA announced a series of sanctions against USC’s football program after an investigation revealed that former Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush, and his family, had received improper benefits from agents vying to represent him. These incentives included free airfare and limousine rides, a car, and a rent-free home in San Diego.

As a result, the BCS stripped USC of its 2004 national title, and Bush returned the Heisman Trophy he had won in 2005.

In March 2011, Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker was fired after an investigation revealed he had been at the center of a cover-up that included payments to politicians over a 30-year period.

The Arizona Republic first broke the news that under Junker’s leadership the Fiesta Bowl had done whatever they had to do to ensure they would have the necessary political support, and taxpayer dollars, to facilitate the Fiesta Bowl’s future as a BCS event.

The common denominator in these five events is money. College athletics, and in particular football, is often an economic engine for a university.

The BCS, billion dollar national television contracts, boosters running amok are seemingly business as usual for the NCAA.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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