There was a moment in the Miami case Friday when infractions committee chairman Britton Banowsky came close to imposing what could be interpreted as a gag order.
A conference call had been called by the Conference USA commissioner for reported "procedural" matters related to the case. On the call were lawyers representing coaches and the university. Multiple sources have told CBSSports.com that Banowsky urged parties to keep from commenting publicly on the contents of the call.
Banowsky's action was covered by Bylaw 32.1.1, the so-called "confidentiality rule," according to the commissioner and NCAA spokesman Stacey Osburn. The bylaw reads: "... an institution and any individual subject to NCAA rules involved in a case shall treat that case under inquiry by the enforcement staff ... as confidential."
Except at that point Miami president Donna Shalala had just got done filleting the NCAA, the process and their main witness.
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NCAA president Mark Emmert's announcement of an external review and its results -- including two media conference calls -- seemingly would have violated 32.1.1.
Maybe Banowsky's reminder needed better aim.
"I don't know what procedures they're following these last few months," said Dave Ridpath, professor, academic reformer and former participant in that infractions process. "That goes way beyond any procedure I'm familiar with."
No one doubts the investigative process needs a certain amount of secrecy. But one source says once the notice of allegations is released, what's the point of the muzzle?
"This is unprecedented," said that source, who is familiar with the Miami case. "He's [Banowksy] trying to silence the public discussion because he wants to suppress the negative publicity."
Welcome to another confusing chapter in a case that is now becoming a daily story as well as a national story.
"The NCAA cannot judge itself," CBS basketball analyst Greg Anthony said on the air this weekend. "The public at some point is going to get fed up with this stuff."
What you forgot in the last few months is that Miami is guilty on some yet-to-be determined level in the Nevin Shapiro case. Guilty as hell, in fact. But the NCAA has almost made us forget that fact with a series of those missteps that may leave Miami in better shape at the end of this thing than the nation's college governing body.
Because, as Gregg Doyel has written, this could be the end of the NCAA itself.
The story won't go away in a week or a month, maybe not at all if some participants are now subject to a rule that Shalala and Emmert seemingly already have violated.
Perhaps for the first time, the NCAA itself is on trial. Not involved in a trial; there have been plenty of those. On trial -- in the court of public opinion, at least. So when the association's president is vacationing in Hawaii less than a week after firing his enforcement director, it's ongoing news. Doesn't matter if the vacation was planned to celebrate with a cousin who is also turning 60. He's a public figure making more per year than many of his organization's unpaid laborers -- oops, student-athletes -- will make in a lifetime.
Besides, vacations can be altered to address a crisis.
It's news when the NCAA executive committee feels compelled to issue an unprecedented vote of confidence for its CEO, as it did on Saturday. The release came a mere five days after an external review commissioned by Emmert revealed a lack of oversight that reached up to the No. 2 man in the organization (COO Jim Isch) and perhaps beyond.
It's a big deal when Mountain West presidents are asked to consider "new NCAA leadership or a new organization".
It's equally big when a Florida senator writes the Florida state's attorney, saying NCAA investigators had engaged in "corrupt behavior."
This case has given us the heretofore unknown interview technique known as "self-corroboration."
Confidentiality? Central Florida president John Hitt commented publicly last year after his football program was hammered and the school appealed. Ohio State president Gordon Gee sang like a bird throughout his school's sordid case. In another situation involving Emmert, he spoke to CBSSports.com's Gary Parrish about the North Carolina case.
Heck, schools routinely call press conferences to announce notices of allegations.
There is a confidentiality rule. It seems to be applied arbitrarily.
At a time when the NCAA could have chosen to accept Miami's significant self-imposed penalties and move on, this has now become the biggest case in the association's history. Bigger than SMU, USC or Ohio State. Yes, even bigger than Penn State because all the sins of the past have been rolled over to this moment, this conflagration of "missteps."
• The source first listed above added that Banowsky's stance is "offensive and it serves no investigative purpose. The enforcement staff has completed its investigation so there's no reason the parties shouldn't be allowed to speak publicly. "But instead the COI [infractions committee] wants to pull the curtain shut and keep the public in the dark."
• CBSSports.com has learned additionally not all the sources representing clients in the Miami case have received access to the investigative file. The NCAA posts information on a secure web portal that cannot be printed out or copied. Typically, those involved in a case are allowed access to that portal shortly after the notice of allegations goes out. Not so far in the Miami case.
There is a bylaw that says the NCAA has 30 days to provide that information. But, according to the Associated Press, the case is now being fast-tracked. The hope is that Miami can get in front of the infractions committee for the mid-June hearing date scheduled in Indianapolis.
The accused have 90 days to respond to allegations, but delayed access to that file cuts into that time.
• While we debate not speaking in public, it has been a week and new interim enforcement director Jon Duncan has yet to speak publicly. He starts officially March 11. That can't be an excuse in this daily/national story. Duncan must be made available to the media -- soon. At some point, he will be formally overseeing the Miami case.
• More about 32.1.1: Back in August 2011, Emmert posted on the NCAA website that the "alleged conduct" at Miami was one of the reasons he called a presidential summit that month. Even in the NCAA investigative process, there is a presumption of innocence. Soon after, Emmert said he was "fine with" the death penalty in curbing wrongdoing.
"My position hypothetically was, no, you can't take that [death penalty] off the table," Emmert told CBSSports.com told me in November 2011.
In the same interview, he said Miami had been "incredibly cooperative."
A sitting NCAA CEO speaking directly about an ongoing investigation is highly unusual, seemingly textbook violations of 32.1.1. It had happened before. When asked to comment about the USC case that was completed in June 2010 before he took office, Emmert said in December of that year the association "got it right."
One problem: That statement came in the middle of a USC appeal, potentially prejudging the result.
In the Miami case, the NCAA has gone forward with a charge of lack of institutional control after one-fifth of the evidence had been excluded. The ongoing scandal has made this less about Shapiro and more about the NCAA's handling of him. NCAA exhibits made public last week show that enforcement set Shapiro up with his own cell phone at a cost of $4,500. Who would have thought at the beginning of this case that the NCAA CEO's vacation would be a talking point?
Who would have thought when Yahoo Sports broke the story in August 2011 that Miami coaches would be in a position to ask the infractions committee that their charges be dropped?
Just remember, don't breathe a word of it to anyone. Or else.