Swagger gone, Miami will stagger on as also-ran

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Jacory Harris, a local who dreamed of Miami glory, begins his senior season under suspension. (Getty Images)  
Jacory Harris, a local who dreamed of Miami glory, begins his senior season under suspension. (Getty Images)  

I made a friend of mine mad the other day. He didn't graduate from the University of Miami, but he loves everything about the Hurricanes football program. He loves the South Beach, in-your-face attitude. He loves the swagger and thinks the current players need more of it.

He longs for "The U" that he grew up watching. When Miami traveled to Phoenix for the national championship game in 1986 and got off the plane wearing fatigues, he cheered. When the 'Canes rolled up 202 yards in penalties in a 46-3 beatdown of Texas in the Cotton Bowl in 1991, he saw it as a poke into the eye of the Establishment. When you're young, you think about stuff like that. I'm not sure that he really loves "The U" as much as he loves the IDEA of "The U."

But I told my friend that "The U," at least the swashbuckling, romantic version of Miami that played for national championships and infuriated its elders, is gone and is never coming back. That point was reinforced by the NCAA on Tuesday when it suspended eight players for taking extra benefits from a rogue booster, Nevin Shapiro.

Butch Davis brought the Miami program back from the brink once, when he rebuilt from 5-6 in 1997 to a team that won the national championship in 2001.

It won't happen again. Miami had a great 20-year run from 1983-2002 with five national championships by four different coaches. But the world that made Miami's quick ascension to the top of college football possible, just like the Orange Bowl, doesn't exist anymore.

Don't get me wrong. Miami will continue to field respectable and even good teams because of its location, its tradition and the fact that it is a great school, something that seems to get lost in this discussion. There will always be guys who grew up in South Florida and remember how things used to be and want to play for Miami. They will come to Coral Gables sold on the idea that THEY are part of the class that will bring "The U" back to its former glory.

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But the U's days as a national championship contender are over. It won't recover from what is coming down the road.

I can hear what some of you are thinking. You're thinking that this is a vast overreaction. Five guys have been suspended for one game, two others for four games, and one will sit for six games. That's hardly the kind of stuff that will cripple a program.

The present is going to be just fine for Miami. This was a team that was going to finish somewhere in the middle of the ACC's Coastal Division before anyone had ever heard of Nevin Shapiro. That doesn't change.

It's when you gaze into the future that you realize that it doesn't look bright for Miami football. What you first have to understand is that the NCAA's ruling on the players is very small part of this. Now that the kids have been disciplined and sent to their rooms without dinner, the NCAA turns its focus on what the ADULTS did -- or didn't do.

First of all, the NCAA has already told us it has been investigating these charges for several months. And the fact that the name of the rogue booster was in the opening paragraph of the NCAA's release on Tuesday cannot be of great comfort to Miami fans. As I wrote earlier this year, the NCAA enforcement staff and the Committee on Infractions are not in a particularly good mood right now. If you don't believe me, ask Georgia Tech. That school got stripped of an ACC championship for the equivalent of jaywalking.

Secondly, the adults in charge at Miami have been profoundly embarrassed, and they should be. President Donna Shalala has felt compelled to put out press releases telling the world how "painful" this has been. Being in the same picture with Shapiro while holding his check for $50,000, now knowing the funds to cover it may be stolen, is very painful for a college president.

This much we know about college presidents: Their first instinct is self-preservation. They will support athletics as long as it is politically expedient (See E. Gordon Gee, The Ohio State University). When it's not, the athletic department is on its own. I don't think the football program at Miami is going to be getting many special favors from the president's office as it moves forward.

The ACC, which brought Miami on board in 2004 to increase its football profile, has been embarrassed twice this summer. North Carolina coach Butch Davis was fired nine days before the start of practice. Then Miami, which has yet to play in an ACC Championship Game, finally makes headlines because of strippers and hookers. The conference has been in business since 1953 and, with the exception of Clemson's NCAA penalties in the 1980s, has never been so humiliated on a national stage.

And finally, this is the big one. High school players choose a school for a myriad of reasons, but when you strip all the conversation away, it comes down to his: Players want to go somewhere that will prepare them for the NFL and is also the "cool" place to go to school. Since 1983 it has always been cool to say: "I go to the U."

Well, thanks to Nevin Shapiro, the heat of a national spotlight is going to be on Miami for the foreseeable future. From this point forward, every move the program makes will be scrutinized and tweeted. Like most schools, Miami will have to overcompensate in order not to run afoul of the rules again.

Recruiting visits at Miami, which apparently were very entertaining when Mr. Shapiro was the host, will consist of milk and cookies at the dorm followed by an 11 p.m. curfew. You can forget South Beach. The highlight of recruiting visits to Miami will be a Grand Slam breakfast at Denny's before heading back home.

According to the Yahoo Sports story, Olivier Vernon got the royal treatment from Shapiro when he was being recruited by Miami. Vernon will sit out six games this season for those extra benefits. Big-time recruits talk to each other and the word gets around that folks are watching.

Suddenly it's not cool to visit Miami anymore. Miami can afford to lose a lot of things, but it cannot afford to lose its South Beach cool. But that is exactly what is going to happen.

The Tony Barnhart Show returns on Sept. 7 at 9 p.m. on The CBS Sports Network.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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