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National Columnist

Miami football got away with cheating? Let's take a closer look

Miami football didn't get away with cheating, and not because Miami spent 26 months in recruiting purgatory, then was docked nine scholarships over three years on Tuesday by the NCAA. Not to mention a self-imposed dungeon of UM president Donna Shalala's creation that denied the team two years in the postseason, including a hard-earned spot in the 2012 ACC championship game.

Miami didn't get away with cheating, but that stuff isn't why.

Miami didn't get away with cheating -- because Miami didn't cheat.

I know, I know. That's the most ridiculous thing you've ever heard given what you know of the facts, given what we all know of the facts, the main fact being this one: Miami booster Nevin Shapiro plied recruits and players with cash and other stuff. That's against the rules. Miami cheated!

Well, no.

Nevin Shapiro cheated. The kids in Miami uniforms? Sure, they received impermissible benefits. And that's against NCAA rules. So the school has to pay for that -- and Miami has. Miami has paid so much since this scandal broke that it makes you feel badly, or it should, for all those Miami grads with those Miami diplomas who have been made to feel like their alma mater, their school, was a disgusting bunch of cheaters.

In negative publicity alone, Miami has paid enormously. But also the purgatory of one recruiting cycle, then two, then most of a third coming and going without any word from the NCAA, which was so scared and overwhelmed and unethical in its own right that it had no idea what to do with the U.

While the NCAA was frozen, Miami was being cooked.

For 26 months this went on, plus the postseason bans and the players being held out. Miami paid. Did Miami pay in the normal way? Of course not, but this is the new normal. You can pine for the good old days when the NCAA decided you're a cheater and hammered you and said, "Trust us" -- and stupid us, we trusted the NCAA. But those days are gone. And hallelujah for that.

But about my opening salvo, that Miami didn't cheat. One clarifier before I move on: I'm referring to Miami football. I wrote that in the first two words of this whole story:

Miami football didn't get away with cheating ...

Miami basketball? It cheated. Frank Haith and his staff cheated. Period. No debating that.

Miami football? Miami football cheated? I'm debating that.

See, cheating implies -- insists -- on the notion that rules were broken for a competitive advantage. The rules broken in this case were compensation for slimy booster Nevin Shapiro's tiny, um, ego. That was the only advantage gained. Nevin Shapiro treated Miami football players like his own personal Viagra, using their favor to make him feel better about the size of his, um, self-image.

Miami as a football program didn't know what was going on. Should it have known, given the access it provided Shapiro? Maybe so, sure. But it didn't know, and therefore Miami football wasn't cheating.

It's as simple as that.

Don't come at me with, "By your logic, schools should hope that boosters pay off all players."

First, nobody has ever started a sentence to me with the words "by your logic" and ended that sentence without falling flat on their own face. (And man they've tried. On Twitter, they try all the time.) Second, no, schools shouldn't hope that boosters pay off players. You think Miami is glad Shapiro paid off players? Even if the NCAA hadn't docked any scholarships, you think Miami would look back on this episode and say, "We sure are glad Nevin Shapiro paid off players"?

Of course not. Schools want their boosters to operate within the rules because cheating boosters sometimes get caught. And when that happens, the school is humiliated and hammered by the court of public opinion if not the court of the NCAA. Sometimes the school is hammered in both courtrooms. So to be as clear as I can be: No, schools shouldn't hope for boosters like Nevin Shapiro to court players or recruits.

That's why I insist Miami didn't cheat -- and barring new information, that's my final opinion on this story. Opinions can evolve over time, and mine has. Look at what I wrote when this story broke in 2011. So astounded by the scope of Shapiro's overcompensation, I said Miami deserved the NCAA's death penalty.

But you know what? Times were different back then. Just two years ago, the majority opinion (and mine) was that college football players didn't need or even deserve to be compensated beyond their scholarship. So much has happened since then, including our knowledge of what football does to the brains of its labor. But also we've learned just how valuable -- as if we didn't know; we should have known -- the labor force is as we've watched college football coaches' salaries skyrocket past $6 million a year and seen the facilities being built and upgraded with price tags in the hundreds of millions.

So much money flowing around, and Miami is crushed because some idiot booster took players to a strip club?

Stupid. The world is changing. Opinions can change, but this doesn't even feel like an opinion. This feels like a statement of fact:

Miami football didn't get away with a damn thing.

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