This is it for the NCAA. Well, for this NCAA.
In what's likely its last major enforcement decision before a looming major overhaul — one that might well include a completely new division of schools with its own new rules — the NCAA has finally announced its decision on Miami football, almost four years after the university first alerted the NCAA.
The additional penalties are relatively minor: nine total scholarships lost over three years, no further postseason ban (nice for a school that's 6-0 for the first time since 2004), penalties for a few involved coaches (none of whom are at Miami anymore) and minor restrictions on recruiting visits. It comes on the back of heavy self-imposed punishment, though, including two seasons away from bowl games and the ACC Championship and the jettisoning of every player and coach involved.
Moreover, it comes after one of the most heinously botched investigations in the organization's history, one fraught with ethical misconduct like paying Nevin Shapiro's attorney for information and defining "corroboration" as "Nevin Shapiro saying something twice." That has not gone unnoticed in the college sports world, as there's now a sense in the NCAA that its reputation is "not in the toilet — but it's been flushed" (their words). And that the NCAA left Miami in the lurch for over two full years will be an indelible stain on its legacy under Mark Emmert. How can it not?
And for what? For this? Nine scholarships on top of what Miami self-imposed? That's the hill the NCAA's reputation dies on? We'd call it a pyrrhic victory, but that's a gross misuse of the word "victory."
So it'll be interesting to see what the NCAA and its new "Division 4" (or whatever we're going to call the rich kids' table) member institutions do to prevent this from happening again. The new division is predicated on "enhancement of the student-athlete experience" due to "increased revenue allocation," which is to say not limiting what Texas can pay its players to what Troy can pay its players. The NCAA probably won't declare what Shapiro did legal in its new division (though the notion of opening up jobs, endorsements, and gifts to players while keeping the school's purse strings closed must be enticing to administrators), but it can't repeat this debacle.
It wasn't long ago that an ex-enforcement official told Sports Illustrated that "the time is ripe to cheat. There's no policing going on," and the organization lost several high-ranking officials in enforcement around that time. That was two years ago, but that was decades of institutional knowledge out the window and that just doesn't get replaced easily. So the NCAA must be judicious in its approach to enforcement, else it get burned again. In other words, that story of former Alabama star OT D.J. Fluker and the four other SEC players who received improper benefits? The NCAA will be treading lightly.
So the Shapiro saga draws mercifully to a close. Miami's not appealing the decision, because of course not. The NCAA has to build a new division and rebuild its enforcement — and its reputation. If this means easing rules on what athletes can and can't accept, it'll spare the NCAA plenty of grief over what it is they actually do and why. Whatever it is, if Mark Emmert is out here talking about "some pretty fundamental change," he can start with the Miami investigation as the bright and shining example of what to never do again.
The micromanagement would be a phenomenal place to start. Of course, when it comes to compliance, all individual actions are potential violations, but when the NCAA imposes sanctions down to the singular level, like so ...
NCAA penalties include any UM staff member who sends impermissible text to prospect will be fined minimum of $100 per message— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) October 22, 2013
... it comes across as heavy-handed and overbearing. What's better for the health of the NCAA and its members: spending large amounts of time and resources on monitoring which coaches send how many text messages to which recruits and when, or simply declaring text messaging an acceptable form of communication between coaches and recruits? Does it really advance any aspect of the NCAA's stated goals to levy three-figure fines on text messages?
And on that note, is there anything inherently wrong with allowing what those agents did for Fluker and others? Obviously it was against the rules when it happened, and those are rules everyone has to abide by. But if it weren't against the rules, what's the harm? Should the NCAA not want to help prepare its best athletes for the future by, y'know, helping them negotiate deals with agents instead of forcing them to pretend that professional world doesn't exist?
Currently the NCAA vacates national championships on account of players receiving improper benefits. Why would it ever want to do that in the future? What good does it do to punish people, be they coaches or players, and effectively take them out of your sport for acts that would be completely normal outside of an "amateur" setting? The NCAA needs to take a hard look at what it does and doesn't allow and figure out what's actually best for its schools and its players in this new division.
Otherwise, it's just back to all this again.