Senior Writer

Many named in Miami scandal still eligible; Why? Limited immunity


Bryce Brown, once a Vols RB now at K-State, was wooed by Miami and is implicated in the scandal. (US Presswire)  
Bryce Brown, once a Vols RB now at K-State, was wooed by Miami and is implicated in the scandal. (US Presswire)  

In the immediate aftermath of the Miami scandal, Purdue released a 37-word statement last week saying there were no "eligibility issues" with quarterback Robert Marve.

The one-time four-star prospect has been through a lot in his career -- an arrest, a car crash, suspensions, a contentious transfer from Miami, a season-ending knee injury. But the fact his eligibility remained intact just a day after Yahoo Sports' detailed report should have gotten the attention of anyone who has even a passing knowledge of NCAA rules.

Marve was among 65 current or former Miami players named in the report who allegedly took extra benefits from former booster Nevin Shapiro. He is alleged to have taken a cash gift (for an unspecified amount), gotten access to VIP nightclubs and treated to at least two dinners at a pricey Miami Beach steakhouse, where a Japanese A5 kobe filet goes for $30 an ounce and a hot dog costs $25.

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If the allegations are true, by any measure Marve was guilty of accepting extra benefits while enrolled at Miami. Assuming the benefits exceeded $100, Marve should have been ineligible for at least two games according to NCAA guidelines. Extra benefits worth more than $500 would have caused him to sit for four.

Except he didn't sit, and won't -- not at Miami and not at Purdue, where he transferred following the 2008 season. Why? NCAA vice president of enforcement Julie Roe Lach may have dropped a hint recently.

"The enforcement staff has been given, by the membership, a pretty important investigative tool," Roe Lach told in an exclusive interview.

"Limited immunity" is a little-known procedure granted to NCAA investigators to get information from a player "when such an individual otherwise might be declared ineligible for intercollegiate competition," according to the NCAA Manual.

Roe Lach put it another way: "When we think that's really our only shot of getting that information."

In essence, it allows guilty parties to become informants in exchange for playing time. The report contains at least two Miami transfers -- Marve and Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown -- as well as seven players from other schools who were recruited by Miami but enrolled elsewhere.

Given the limited-immunity clause and other NCAA rules, it's reasonable to conclude that 60 of the 72 players named in Yahoo's report will not be affected. The large majority of those are either out of football or in the NFL. They cannot be compelled to talk by the NCAA. But no other former player or recruit has lost playing time. That would leave the 12 current Hurricanes who are named in the report. Their playing status has not been determined, at least not publicly.

The Yahoo report indicated only 12 current Hurricanes were affected, but Miami president Donna Shalala said Monday compliance officers are looking into the eligibility of 15 that Shapiro allegedly provided extra benefits to.

While no one at the NCAA will confirm that limited immunity has been used in this case, one source close to the investigation told that "apparently they chose to give these guys limited immunity ... which means they're all eligible."

If there is any doubt about limited immunity, Roe Lach seemed remove it by saying, "You can't transfer to escape a penalty."

During the 25-minute interview, Roe Lach was speaking in broad terms and never specifically about the Miami case. She said prospects who take extra benefits at one school but sign with another are not pursued unless they are receiving those benefits from an agent. She then explained the limited-immunity possibility.

"You can draw own conclusions," she said, "based on what I share."

Other former Miami recruits named in the report include Kansas State running back Bryce Brown, Central Florida quarterback Jeffrey Godrey, Florida offensive lineman Matt Patchan, Georgia tight end Orson Charles and Florida receiver Andre Debose. To date, their eligibility has not been affected.

The limited-immunity clause goes back at least a quarter of a century. Former Oklahoma State receiver Hart Lee Dykes was one of 12 Cowboys players granted limited immunity in 1988 during a case that landed four schools (Illinois, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma) on probation.

Oklahoma State was eventually handed crippling penalties as a result of Dykes' testimony. The receiver reportedly had gotten at least $23,000 in benefits.

One source who has been through approximately 50 NCAA cases over the past 20 years said limited immunity had been used only a handful of times. That alone suggests the scope of the Miami investigation by the NCAA, which is entering its sixth month. Those 72 prospects, current and former players were allegedly given benefits by Shapiro that could be conservatively estimated to total six figures.

The NCAA seems to be targeting the adults and the school, not the players, in building its case against Miami. As noted, recruiting violations typically follow transfers, such as Marve, to the new school. Recruits are thought to be less culpable. Extra benefits taken during a recruiting visit count only if that recruit signs where the violation occurs.

Then there's that exception. If the extra benefit is accepted from a third party, such as an agent, that is a violation of the NCAA amateurism bylaw. Whether the NCAA will determine Shapiro's role as that of an agent isn't known. Shapiro at one time co-owned an agency that represented players.

"Historically, the idea has been when there are violations involving prospects, it's the coach or the booster or the school who knows better," Roe Lach said. "Sometimes the prospects or the prospect's family doesn't [know better], so it's not fair."

That seems to be the case with Arthur and Bryce Brown. Arthur was the celebrated linebacker recruit from Wichita, Kan., who spent two seasons at Miami before transferring to Kansas State. According to Yahoo, brother Bryce, a big-time tailback prospect, was entertained with his family by Shapiro during a 2008 recruiting visit.

Arthur Brown is alleged to have taken at least $2,000 worth of benefits, meals, drinks, hotel rooms and a strip club visit while enrolled at Miami. Just as in Marve's case, those types of violations would follow a player even if he transferred.

On Wednesday, Kansas State released a statement regarding the Brown brothers, saying the NCAA "has no concerns about their eligibility to compete at K-State." Bryce is a transfer from Tennessee.

Arthur Brown Sr., the players' father, told that he met Shapiro one time.

"At the time we met, we asked him if he was an alumni or if he was an agent," Brown Sr. said. "He said no, that he wasn't."

The father added that he met Shapiro through then-Miami player Randy Phillips.

"We actually flew down to the [2008] spring game," Brown Sr. said. "I had never heard of [Shapiro]. I was told somebody wants to meet us. At the time I had no idea who he was. We only had lunch."

Shapiro told Yahoo he broke rules by paying for hotel rooms for the Brown family and adviser Brian Butler. Shapiro also said he paid for lunch for the Browns at the high-end Smith and Wollensky steakhouse on Miami Beach.

Brown Sr. said he was "not at liberty" to say whether his sons had been interviewed by the NCAA. He had not been interviewed and was not familiar with the term "limited immunity."

If you've noticed a loophole the size of a Mack truck, you're on the right track. Theoretically, a recruit could party it up during his five official visits, but as long as he didn't sign with any of those schools, he would be in the clear.

Roe Lach admitted there could be an opening "if the student-athlete is savvy in gaming the system and being an open party to recruiting violations." But she countered that the resulting paperwork from chasing every recruiting violation at every school wouldn't exactly enhance the NCAA's image.

"It almost would be a bureaucratic mess if all those violations are going to affect a prospect's eligibility at every school," Roe Lach said.

NCAA rules on such visits are restrictive. Student hosts are allowed only $30 per day to entertain the host, the prospect and his/her family. That is aside from complimentary meals provided by the school.

If the emerging details are true, it's obvious that Nevin Shapiro never read those rules or didn't care -- or both.

"It's kind of mind-boggling," Brown Sr. said. "I don't really have any words for it. It definitely can take your breath away. I would have never imagined."

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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