In a vacuum, even the NCAA might have a hard time getting its blood over the alleged recruiting violations by Miami outlined Friday by Yahoo! Sports' resident Angel of Death, Charles Robinson, who usually couldn't be bothered with such a trifling set of infractions himself. In short, during his first month on the job in January 2011, UM head coach Al Golden deputized a low-ranking holdover from the previous staff to contact and occasionally chauffeur local recruiting targets to and from meetings with coaches, in violation of NCAA recruiting rules. That's it.
No money is alleged to have exchanged hands. No boosters. No academic shenanigans to get borderline players eligible. No debauched tales of fast cars, strip clubs or cushy jobs for anyone's mother. Just some guy calling kids and sometimes driving them around. In a vacuum, on a random Friday afternoon in July, this looks like the kind of run-of-the-mill secondary violation other reporters and columnists skim for two seconds on their way to the bar.
In reality, on this particular Friday afternoon, at this particular stage of the sprawling investigation sparked by Robinson's in-depth exposé of major violations at Miami last year, it may be the last few inches of rope the NCAA needs to tighten the noose. If it can't plausibly claim that its new coaching staff has pulled out every reasonable stop to reverse the see-no-evil administrations that preceded it, Miami's defense has no legs left to stand on. Just a scaffold, on the deck of a sinking ship.
The most damning detail of the new allegations is not the what, which is hardly shocking business, but the who. Specifically, one face that should look familiar to anyone who read the staggering, self-incriminating account of ex-'Cane booster turned convicted Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro last summer: Former equipment manager Sean "Pee Wee" Allen, who Robinson says has become "a focal point" in the NCAA's investigation into Shapiro. (There is also a cameo in the latest report by another alleged Shapiro conspirator, ex-wide receivers Aubrey Hill.) Allen directly involved in the tidal wave of alleged violations facilitated by Shapiro's illicit bank account in the mid-to-late 2000s, survived the transition from former coach Randy Shannon's administration to Golden's in the winter of 2010-11, and was almost immediately tapped by the new sheriff in town to keep lines of communication open with Shannon's most coveted recruits, even if it meant continuing to color outside the lines.
With that, a direct line of continuity from the spectacularly corrupt Shapiro era to the current regime is established, and Golden's paeans to rehabilitation and reform suddenly strain credibility. Within days of his arrival, he began dipping his toes into the same murky channels that just a few months before had led directly to the front door of Shapiro's $6 million beach house. Even if the result is only a minor, temporary blemish in any other context, in the context of intense the NCAA scrutiny on this program, it might as well be a big, permanent black mark. In that context, Miami needed Golden to be squeaky, unimpeachably clean.
That was the implicit understanding last November, when the university awarded Golden a four-year contract extension in the midst of a middling flop of a season on the field, as an incentive to see the storm through. Golden accepted as if he were some sort of martyr for declining to jump ship when he had the chance, when hardly anyone could have blamed him. NCAA violations? No, this is not what he signed up for. How could he have known? How can he be held responsible for gaping holes that he inherited, that were concealed from him?
But if the charges described by Robinson stick, they can no longer be written off as ancient history. As of today, coach and program are quite clearly stuck in the same boat, their last lifeline – a new leaf to present to the Committee on Infractions – floating helplessly away.