Nuclear Explosion

Is a Miami death penalty the NCAA’s only option?


Roughly 16 years after SMU was hit with the infamous “death penalty” that crippled their football program for nearly a quarter of a century, then-Florida president John Lombardi said that the NCAA would do anything it could going forward to avoid sentencing another school to a similar fate.

“SMU taught the committee that the death penalty is too much like the nuclear bomb,” Lombardi said in 2002. “It’s like what happened after we dropped the [atomic] bomb in World War II. The results were so catastrophic that now we’ll do anything to avoid dropping another one.”

A decade later, thanks to an explosive exposé by Yahoo! sports, the nuclear option appears to be back on the table, and it could force the NCAA to play the football version of Harry Truman once again.

The level of malfeasance alleged in the investigative piece by convicted felon Nevin Shapiro is truly staggering and is only rivaled in recent times by the infamous SMU scandal, when the Mustangs were Pony Express’d back to the football dark ages in the mid-eighties.  Shapiro, who once had a players lounge named in his honor at the Coral Gables school, alleges he gave impermissible benefits that by his estimation totaled in the millions and millions of dollars to more than five dozen Hurricane football players — including a dozen current ones — over an eight-year period beginning in 2001.

Cash, prostitutes, jewelry, clothing, electronics, yachts, mansions, strip club junkets and, in one instance, an abortion.  You name it, Shapiro alleges he provided it for many, many a Hurricane player.

Perhaps most damning is the Yahoo! report claims four former football assistants as well as three football support staff members had direct knowledge of or participated in the violating of multiple NCAA rules, including sending high school recruits to Shapiro’s multi-million dollar mansion or accompanying Shapiro and recruits to strip clubs.  Shapiro’s physical confrontation with UM’s head of compliance in the press box of a 2007 game wrought a background check by the university, which revealed he was the co-owner of a sports representation agency.  Still, the university did nothing.

Juxtapose those Miami allegations against the SMU case two-and-a-half-decades ago and, more recently, USC.

Already banned from bowl games in 1985 and 1986 as well as any television appearances for the latter year due to recruiting violations committed by boosters and at least one assistant, SMU was found in 1986 by the NCAA to have created a slush fund — which paid football players upwards of $700 a month — that was controlled by a booster and sanctioned by officials from the athletic department all the way through the school’s Board of Governors.  For that, the NCAA canceled the Mustangs 1987 season — the school canceled the 1988 season as well due to lack of players — banned the school from bowl games and television appearances through the 1989 season, as well as stripping them of nearly 60 football scholarships over a four-year period.

At first blush, the situation in Miami appears to be the work of a lone rogue booster who inexplicably flew underneath the school’s radar — allegedly — for eight years.  SMU’s case was an organized, systematic pay-for-play scandal involving multiple layers of individuals both inside the athletic department and out, even bleeding into the political arena.

Is that enough of a difference to keep the NCAA from pressing the nuclear button and leveling The U football program?

If it’s looked at through a prism of blacks and whites, the allegations leveled against Miami are the worst to hit major college football since SMU in the mid-eighties and would appear to deserve something that approaches the same level of sanctions.  As the NCAA has shown since slapping near-historic sanctions on USC, though, the NCAA seems to work with varying shades of gray that only they can see.  And comprehend.

To illustrate that very point, the Trojans were stripped of 30 scholarships over a three-year period and banned from appearing in bowl games for two after the NCAA found one player — Reggie Bush — and/or his family had received in the neighborhood of $300,000 from two would-be sports marketers/felons while he was a running back at the school.  One USC assistant — not four as alleged in the Yahoo! Miami piece, or multiple members of the institution as found in the SMU case — and one two-minute phone conversation led to the sanctions that have set the Trojans football program back at least a couple of years if not more.

After handing the Trojans some of the stiffest sanctions since SMU was obliterated from the football map, Paul Dee, chair of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions, said the following when it comes to a school’s responsibility for dealing with outside influences on student-athletes:

“The real issue here is if you have high‑profile players, your enforcement staff has to monitor those students at a higher level. It’s extraordinarily important that the people that are likely to be receiving these kinds of interactions from people outside the institution are also those same people who are going to provide a reward somewhere down the road. So high‑profile players demand high‑profile compliance.”

Dee was the athletic director at the University of Miami during the time Shapiro was allegedly lavishing his student-athletes with gifts, cash and services.

Regardless of whether it’s too much like the nuclear bomb, and the catastrophic results Lombardi referred to be damned, the NCAA needs to drop another one on the Miami football program if they have any real desire to truly change the culture as they’ve openly professed in recent months.  What would that entail when it comes to the ‘Canes?  Miami’s situation — if the allegations are proven, it should be noted — would seem to fall somewhere between SMU and USC, but leaning decidedly toward the former side in terms of severity.

Leaning enough to warrant sanctions similar to what SMU received?  Certainly this trumps Bush’s financial masterpiece, setting the bar for sanctions to come in somewhere well above what USC received.  If that involves something close to the death penalty, so be it; at some point, there have to be significant repercussions for programs that don’t demand high-profile compliance for high-profile players.

One way or the other, though, the NCAA needs to take their hands out from under their backsides and show that what they’re spewing publicly aren’t merely words lacking any kind of meaningful action behind them.  One SMU is too many.  Two of them calls for a significant change to the structure of collegiate athletics.

And a sweeping change to the hypocrisy that Dee’s involvement on both sides fully displays.

Louisville to wear glow-in-the-dark gloves and cleats against N.C. State

LOUISVILLE, KY - OCTOBER 14:  Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals runs with the ball during the game against the Duke Blue Devils at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on October 14, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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We’ve seem some pretty crazy uniform combinations over the years but it seems adidas is looking to raise everybody’s game a little this weekend.

The school and apparel company tweeted on Friday afternoon that Louisville — just in time for Halloween — would be debuting some glow-in-the-dark gloves and cleats with a skeleton design for their homecoming game against N.C. State.

Yes the Wolfpack and Cardinals play at noon ET and not in primetime so the effect of the glow-in-the-dark cleats is probably a bit muted but it’s still a pretty cool idea.

It’s a little unclear as to if N.C. State will also don some glow-in-the-dark gear (they are also an adidas school) but it should make for a slick look on Saturday at Papa John’s Stadium either way.

Maryland announces DB Will Likely will miss rest of the season with torn ACL

IOWA CITY, IA - OCTOBER 31: Runningback William Likely #4 of the Maryland Terrapins runs a kickoff back for a touchdown in front of fullback Macon Plewa #42 of the Iowa Hawkeyes in the second half on October 31, 2015 at Kinnick Stadium, in Iowa City, Iowa. (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)
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It’s been a rough few years for Maryland football but one of the bright spots for the Terrapins has been the stellar play of cornerback/receiver/return man Will Likely.

Unfortunately that time has come to an end as the school announced on Friday that the senior suffered a torn ACL in last week’s game against Minnesota and would miss the rest of the season.

“In the short time I’ve been here at Maryland, I understand and have a great appreciation for the significant impact Will Likely has had on our football program,” head coach D.J. Durkin said in a statement. “Will was one of the first people I met with when I accepted the job and it was quickly apparent how much he meant to his teammates and Maryland football. He will continue to play a vital role in our program as we lean on him for his leadership and experience. I am confident Will has the work ethic, drive and focus to overcome this injury and continue his football career at the next level.”

Likely was an All-Big Ten selection the past two seasons and contributed all over the board for the Terps. He was primarily the team’s lockdown corner but he was one of the best return men in the country with his combination of speed and quickness.

Likely stuck around College Park for his final season despite the coaching change last year and was one of the veteran leaders in a new defensive scheme under Durkin, ranking first on the team in pass breakups and third in tackles prior to his injury.

Sophomore RaVon Davis is expected to take his spot in the secondary while D.J. Moore is likely the next man up on kick and punt returns.

It’s a tough blow to lose any player halfway through a season but it sure seems like Maryland is going to be losing a lot more than a starter with Likely gone the rest of the year.

Arizona State fires final shot at Washington State’s Mike Leach over sign-stealing comments

BOULDER, CO - OCTOBER 15:  Arizona State Sun Devils head coach Todd Graham coaches on the sideline during a game against the Colorado Buffaloes at Folsom Field on October 15, 2016 in Boulder, Colorado.  (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
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The Pac-12 announced on Thursday that the conference would be issuing a public reprimand and fining Washington State head coach Mike Leach $10,000 as the result of his earlier comments accusing Arizona State of stealing signs.


While that surprising decision from the league office to step in may have been enough for some schools, it appears the Sun Devils wanted to make sure they would be getting in one final parting shot at the Cougars.

“I fully support the Pacific-12 Conference Office and Commissioner Larry Scott’s decision on this matter,” athletics director Ray Anderson said in a statement on Friday. “Our professional integrity was questioned for two straight years by Mike Leach’s irresponsible comments and we will not allow that to happen.  We are pleased with the outcome and for us the matter is closed.”

Leach accused ASU of stealing signs both last season and earlier in the week at his Monday press conference. Todd Graham defended his program and responded directly to the comments the next day and it appears that the Pac-12 decided to step in and put an end to the war of words going back-and-forth between the two coaches. It’s rare for one athletic director to call another coach in the league “irresponsible,” but you can understand why they would want to be defensive over such a touchy subject.

While Anderson says he considers the matter closed, something says this issue will be brought up again when the two teams meet on Saturday night in Tempe and both coaches square off from opposite sidelines.

Restraining orders will keep three more Gophers from playing Saturday

Minnesota defensive back KiAnte Hardin (3) intercepts a pass intended for Iowa wide receiver Jerminic Smith (9) during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)
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An ongoing situation at Minnesota has ensnared three more Gopher football players.

Thursday, a report surfaced that two Gopher players, freshman defensive end Tamarion Johnson and sophomore running back Carlton Djam, had a temporary restraining order filed against them by a woman who alleged she was sexually assaulted back in September.  Friday, the attorney for those two, Lee Hutton, confirmed to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that three other clients, cornerbacks KiAnte Hardin and Ray Buford and safety Dior Johnson, have been served the same restraining order in connection to the same allegations.

Because the woman who received the order is a student who works at TCF Bank Stadium on football game days, none of the five players will be permitted to play in Saturday’s homecoming game against Rutgers or even be in the stadium. The Star Tribune writes that the stadium’s “address is listed as one of two restricted addresses in the restraining orders.”

In mid-September, Hardin, Buford and both Johnsons were suspended in the midst of an investigation into an alleged sexual assault earlier in the month.  Citing insufficient evidence in the case, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office announced in early October that no charges would be filed and the players were reinstated.

Djam’s connection to the alleged incident is unknown.

According to Hutton, there is a hearing scheduled for next Tuesday morning in which he hopes to have all five orders overturned.

“What we are going to do is aggressively defend this action,” Hutton told the paper. “We are going to go on the offensive to show she only used the courts to destroy my clients’ lives.”

“It would not be appropriate for the University to comment on this matter to the extent it relates to University students,” a Thursday statement from the school on the restraining orders began. “The University reaffirms, however, that it will honor and comply with court orders.”

Hardin, a true sophomore, played in 13 games last season.  This season, he started the opener and, after sitting three games because of the suspension, had started the last two.  He’s also listed as the team’s starting kick returner.

None of the other four players are listed on the team’s most recent two-deep chart.

Buford has played in two games this season after taking a redshirt for his true freshman season last year.  The sophomore Djam has run for 33 yards on nine carries this season. A freshman, Tamarion Johnson was a likely candidate for a redshirt.