Miami NOA delayed as NCAA investigates itself

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No, seriously.  This is actually happening.

Two weekends ago, a report surfaced that the NCAA would be issuing a Notice of Allegations to the Miami Hurricanes in connection to  improper benefits involving both the football and basketball programs.  That issuance was expected as early as a week ago Monday; since that report, there’s been nothing but crickets chirping as far as the ear could hear.

Today, we now know why the Notice of Allegations has been delayed, and the reasons behind the delay paint the NCAA in an even more negative light than it already has been over the past few years.

In a press release, the NCAA announced that its “national office has uncovered an issue of improper conduct within its enforcement program that occurred during the University of Miami investigation.”  In other words, the NCAA violated NCAA bylaws in its investigation of an NCAA member.  The genesis for the improper conduct seems to stem almost solely from documents obtained by the NCAA from bankruptcy proceedings involving Nevin Shapiro, the former UM booster who allegedly lavished millions of dollars in impermissible benefits on Hurricane football (mainly) and basketball players.

From the release:

Former NCAA enforcement staff members worked with the criminal defense attorney for Nevin Shapiro to improperly obtain information for the purposes of the NCAA investigation through a bankruptcy proceeding that did not involve the NCAA.

As it does not have subpoena power, the NCAA does not have the authority to compel testimony through procedures outside of its enforcement program. Through bankruptcy proceedings, enforcement staff gained information for the investigation that would not have been accessible otherwise.

As a result of misconduct on the part of his enforcement staff — conduct that he says “angered and saddened” him — president Mark Emmert confirmed that the NCAA “will not move forward with a Notice of Allegations against Miami until all the facts surrounding this issue are known.”

An external review of the NCAA’s enforcement program has been commissioned by Emmert.  Kenneth L. Wainstein, a partner with the law firm Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, has been retained by the NCAA and will be charged with conducting “a thorough investigation into the current issue as well as the overall enforcement environment, to ensure operation of the program is consistent with the essential principles of integrity and accountability.”

Emmert hopes that the review will be completed in a period of 7-10 days.

“Trust and credibility are essential to our regulatory tasks,” said Emmert.  “My intent is to ensure our investigatory functions operate with integrity and are fair and consistent with our member schools, athletics staff and most importantly our student-athletes.”

Regardless of how long this external review takes, it’s yet another delay in an investigation that’s more than two years in the making.

Shapiro first came to the NCAA’s attention in August of 2010, with reports surfacing that the convicted felon was writing a tell-all book in which he was alleging former Hurricane players had committed major NCAA violations.  In August of the next year, the NCAA’s investigation became public knowledge; a Yahoo! Sports report that same month had Shapiro claiming he spent “millions of dollars” on six dozen UM student-athletes, with the benefits ranging from “cash, prostitutes, entertainment in [Shapiro’s] multimillion-dollar homes and yacht, paid trips to high-end restaurants and nightclubs, jewelry, bounties for on-field play (including bounties for injuring opposing players), travel and on one occasion, an abortion.”

In February of 2012, Shapiro, apparently agitated that nearly four dozen individuals connected to The U were lined up to testify against him in his federal trial, promised to take “that program down to Chinatown” and that the Miami story will become “an urban legend” before it’s all said and done.

Shapiro was ultimately sentenced to 20 years in prison for orchestrating what was in the neighborhood of a $1 billion Ponzi scheme.  The damage outside the courtroom, though, had already been done.

Miami has already self-imposed a bowl ban each of the past two seasons in an attempt to soften potential NCAA sanctions, although it was holding off on self-imposing scholarship reductions and other punitive measures for the time being.  How this latest revelation by the NCAA will affect a Notice of Allegations — if there even is one — remains to be seen.

Per the NCAA, a NOA is sent to notify a member institution that enough evidence exists that major violations have occurred and that The Association is moving forward in the process.  Some have asked whether misconduct on the part of the investigative staff will result in some sort of a “mistrial” for Miami’s case.

“It’s premature to answer that question,” Emmert said on a conference call Wednesday, adding, “this is a shocking affair.”

If/when Miami receives its NOA from the NCAA — Emmert said during the conference call that information obtained surreptitiously was a very small part of the case and would be “thrown out” — they will have 90 days to respond.  Following that response, UM will appear in front of the Committee on Infractions to answer the allegations.  Typically 6-8 weeks thereafter, the NCAA will issue its findings and any sanctions will be revealed.

QB controversy in Tuscaloosa? Freshman Tua Tagovailoa impresses at Alabama spring game

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Alabama’s annual A-Day spring game took place at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday and those tuning in to the Crimson team’s last minute 27-24 win over the White team had to be especially impressed with the Tide’s explosive offense under new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.

In particular that comes at the quarterback position, where there might be more of a controversy at the spot than first thought. Incumbent Jalen Hurts was very sharp on his downfield passes but his strong outing (301 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) was overshadowed by true freshman Tua Tagovailoa, who simply stole the show down in Tuscaloosa.

The early enrollee signal-caller from Hawaii jumped onto the scene in the first half of the game and wound up completing 17 passes for 313 yards, three touchdowns and an interception while working with both the first- and second-team offenses. You could normally dismiss numbers put up against a team’s second-string defense, this is Alabama we’re talking about so you know it’s coming against numerous future All-SEC players.

Tagovailoa did throw a pick-six in the second quarter but that was mostly because linebacker Terrell Hall made an unbelievable play on a swing pass to snatch the ball out of the air and run it all the way back to the opposite end zone. Freshman tailback Najee Harris (70 yards rushing) as well as stud wide receivers Calvin Ridley, Robert Foster and Jerry Jeudy (134 yards, two scores) also stood out on Saturday.

In all, offense ruled the day as the two quarterbacks combined for over 600 yards through the air. That probably won’t make reviewing film with Nick Saban all that pleasant for members of the secondary next week but was probably good news to most fans after lackluster performances down the stretch to end last season.

Either way, everybody should probably start brushing up on how to pronounce Tagovailoa even if he doesn’t ultimately unseat Hurts as the starter because the young QB has lived up to the early billing by recruiting analysts.

Baylor freshman tailback Abram Smith out for the season with spring ACL tear

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Baylor kicked off the first spring game of the Matt Rhule era on Saturday and wrapped things up with a 65-39 Gold team victory over the Green squad that included a pretty impressive touchdown catch from former basketball player Ish Wainright.

The news wasn’t all rosy in Waco however as after the game Rhule announced that freshman running back Abram Smith would be lost for the 2017 season after suffering an ACL tear in the Bears’ first spring practice.

Smith wasn’t being counted on as being a starter this season but his loss is a fairly big blow to the team’s depth at the position. Returnees JaMycal Hasty and Terence Williams already missed parts of the spring game due to injuries on Saturday, leaving just senior Wyatt Schrepfer to take most of the carries late in the contest.

All three figure to be good to go by the time fall camp rolls around but there’s not much behind them with Smith being lost for the year. A three-star recruit coming out of high school, the early enrollee likely would have seen some snaps in 2017 but will instead have to spend it redshirting on the bench.

Brian Kelly takes the blame for Notre Dame’s struggles last season

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Notre Dame wrapped up spring football with the Irish’s annual spring game on NBC Sports Network on Saturday afternoon in South Bend and front and center was not surprisingly head coach Brian Kelly.

While fans of the team were probably most interested in how quarterback Brandon Wimbush looked, Kelly did go into detail about what the offseason has been like after last year’s disappointing 4-8 campaign. While the coach has been known to be a bit defensive when it comes to the team’s struggles, he did open up during a sit-down interview and was transparent in taking the blame for the way 2016 went.

“When you have a losing season, you have to look at yourself first,” Kelly told NBC Sports’ Jac Collinsworth. “I’ve always felt like there isn’t a bad football team but there is bad leadership and I don’t think I provided the kind of leadership (last year). It starts with yourself.”

Kelly goes on to discuss the significant changes to the Irish coaching staff, how this team is very much a work in progress and how Wimbush is handling taking over as the starting signal-caller.

The Gold team ended up winning the spring game 27-14 over the Blue team behind a strong defensive performance. If Saturday’s outing was any indication, Notre Dame should be much improved this upcoming season and that seems to start from the top on down.

SEC commissioner confirms graduate transfer rule changes will be discussed at spring meetings

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We’re still over a month away from the SEC’s annual spring meetings down in Destin, Fla. but one item we might be able to confirm is on the agenda will be the graduate transfer rules for the conference.

It’s a hot topic around the league and particularly so at Florida, which is in the mix to land Notre Dame graduate transfer Malik Zaire but can’t officially take him due to restrictions from the conference office.

That may change however, as SEC commissioner Greg Sankey confirmed in a radio interview on Friday with ESPN Gainesville.

“It will come up,” Sankey said, according to SECCountry.com. “I do think we need to look where we’ve been restrictive in the past because of the absence of national rules and look at reducing some of those restrictions. I’m one who would position it as interest in freeing things up without just removing every restraint, because I think the restraints have been healthy for us.”

At the heart of the issue is a rule that limits schools from taking additional graduate transfers if previous graduate transfers failed to meet academic requirements after enrolling. The move was designed to prevent a number of situations where players would transfer over just to play and not really go through coursework at their new school.

Other NCAA conferences have failed to follow the SEC’s lead in this area however and now the league is being put at a bit of a disadvantage on the graduate transfer market. This is particularly an issue with the Gators this offseason but it seems as though there will be quite the discussion down in Destin among athletic directors and head coaches about changing the rules to be on more of a level playing field with other conferences on this front.