National Columnist

For NCAA to survive, it can't give Miami death penalty


Obviously Miami deserves the death penalty for football. Just as obviously, Miami won't get what it deserves because the NCAA is too scared to do it.

That's my position, and it's based on two suppositions -- suppositions I'm more than comfortable making. Supposition One: The crux of Yahoo's Pulitzer-caliber reporting on Miami's decade of decadence is correct. Supposition Two: The primary source of that report, former Miami booster Nevin Shapiro, is telling mostly the truth. I don't need every accusation out of his mouth to be true to write the first sentence of this story. If every other accusation out of his mouth is true -- heck, if every fourth accusation out of his mouth is true -- I stand by my first sentence:

Obviously Miami deserves the death penalty for football.


This is SMU's Pony Expre$$ plus Southern California/Reggie Bush multiplied by Ohio State and Jim Tressel. This is the trifecta of taint, is what I'm saying. It's as bad a scandal as anything we've ever seen in college sports. Have there been dirtier situations than this one at Miami? Possibly. Heck, I'll go so far as to say probably. But we don't know about those.

We know about this one.

And this one's bad. The worst I've ever seen. It's player after player -- 72 in all! -- being plied with cash and prostitutes and more, much more. And, according to Yahoo's reporting and Nevin Shapiro's big mouth, it was done with the knowledge of a handful of Miami coaches. So like I said, this is SMU plus Reggie Bush multiplied by Jim Tressel.

Which means this is death-penalty territory.


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But the NCAA won't do it. Just you watch -- it won't happen. And when it doesn't happen, this is why:

The NCAA knows the entire structure of college sports is teetering on the edge of the abyss. One wrong move -- Texas A&M to the SEC ... or the death penalty to a football powerhouse -- could push the whole thing off the cliff. And when it goes, it won't be just the Big 12 and the ACC that go down. The NCAA will go down with it.

See, as I told you in April 2010 -- and as everyone else is saying now -- the end game for all of this conference realignment is a 64-team field of BCS schools. Four conferences of 16 teams, breaking away from the NCAA to form their own league so they can keep all the TV money. At the highest level of college sports there would be no need for schools in the MAC or the Mountain West or Conference USA, so there would be no need for the NCAA.

And the NCAA knows it.

The NCAA isn't some corporate robot. It's a company run by hundreds of people -- good people -- who want their job. And lots of them wouldn't have a job if the 64 biggest schools in America break away and form their own super-structure. Whatever NCAA was left behind to manage the mid-majors of the world, well, it wouldn't be nearly as big as the NCAA that sits there in Indianapolis today.

Which brings us back to Miami, and to other NCAA sanctions administered in recent years. You know how the punishment never seems to fit the crime anymore in college sports? This is why -- the NCAA doesn't want to bite the hand that feeds it. Because that hand might just bite back.

The NCAA doesn't control college sports, not really. The NCAA is more like a snake-charmer, trying to keep the cobra at bay without getting bitten. One wrong move, and the cobra lashes out. Goodbye, snake-charmer.

Give Miami the death penalty? Goodbye, NCAA.

If Miami goes down like SMU went down in the late 1980s, falling so hard that it still hasn't gotten up, other schools around the country wouldn't abide by it -- because some day it could happen to them. And that's not a risk they want to take, not since what happened to Miami could happen anywhere that a booster has enough money, charm and apathy toward the rules to do what Nevin Shapiro says he did at Miami.

The NCAA knows its biggest schools wouldn't condone the death penalty, or even harsh penalties designed to deter cheaters. That's why UConn basketball was slapped on the wrist for the awful Jim Calhoun stuff. It's why Tennessee and Ohio State will be slapped on the wrist for the blatant lying -- about NCAA violations -- of their head coaches. It's why Southern California had superstars in football and basketball receiving large benefits, but lived to tell about it. Because the NCAA wants to punish cheaters, yes, but not so severely that the cheaters take their ball and go find another home.

So if there's good news for Miami football, there you go: This was the right time in the history of college sports to get busted. It's up to the paternal NCAA to give out a spanking, but Daddy won't spank too hard.

He knows the kids might just run away.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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