- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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When the brilliant investigative bombshell by Yahoo! Sports landed on the University of Miami's collective head Tuesday, the impact was felt most acutely by the football program. But as Andy Katz discussed this morning, the implication of former Miami basketball coach Frank Haith in a scheme to entice recruit DeQuan Jones with a $10,000 payment to a family member -- as alleged by former Miami booster and Ponzi-scheming felon Nevin Shapiro -- could leave a rather large crater where the newly hired Missouri basketball coach's career once stood.
It certainly doesn't look good. Yahoo! reporter Charles Robinson unearthed several photos featuring Haith side-by-side with Shapiro, one of which was taken at a restaurant, where Haith, Shapiro and assistant coach Jake Morton -- whom Shapiro alleges handled the cash in the supposed Jones payoff deal -- are sitting side-by-side and posing for the camera.
But looking bad is one thing. Losing your job after an NCAA investigation is another. And so Tuesday's news raised a host of Missouri-related questions: Are Shapiro's allegations about the $10,000 accurate? Did Haith, as Shapiro alleges, actually know about it? And what of the investigation? Did Haith know about this before he was hired at Missouri? Did he inform MU athletic director Mike Alden during the interview process? Will Mizzou wait for an NCAA investigation to take action, or will it do so pre-emptively? Where does this leave the Tigers in the short-term? Why is my head spinning?
OK, so that last one's a personal problem. The rest are legitimate questions. As Andy wrote today, it's possible we won't know more about how Haith's old job will affect his new job until the NCAA has time to investigate and rule on Shapiro's allegations. It's possible, due to the nature of the alleged violation -- straight cash, homie -- that Haith may be able to escape severe NCAA penalties.
But will Missouri want to go through all that? What power, if any, do the Tigers have to act on this mess before the NCAA submits the results of what is sure to be a long, drawn-out investigation?
The Columbia Daily Tribune's Steve Walentik dug up Haith's Mizzou contract and found some of the relevant language. (You can see a PDF of Haith's contract here.) There are a few related provisions in Haith's contract, including the following, which is specific to discipline in the wake of NCAA violations:
11. Discipline for Violation of NCAA, Conference and University Rules and Regulations. If the Employee is found in violation of NCAA regulations, he shall be subject to disciplinary or corrective action as set forth in the provisions of the NCAA enforcement procedures, including suspension without pay or termination of employment for significant or repetitive violations. The University is committed to meeting and exceeding that standard and, therefore, if there are significant or repetitive violations on the part of the Employee of Big XII, NCAA or University rules in his conduct of the intercollegiate men’s basketball program, the University may terminate this Contract for Employment when such violations have reasonably been determined to exist by the Chancellor. The Employee shall have the procedural right to a review and hearing relating to any such determination. Any such hearing shall be governed by normal University grievance procedures provided for employees of the Employee’s classification, as now or hereafter amended, unless other procedures are agreed upon by the parties.
Another section, which outlines the conditions under which Haith can be fired for "cause," reads as follows:
(5) consistent with the provisions of Paragraph 11 hereof, any violation of any policy, law, rule, regulation, constitutional provision, bylaw or interpretation of the University, the NCAA, or the Conference, which violation may, in the sole judgment of the University, reflect adversely upon the University or its ahtletic program, including any violation which results in the University being sanctioned by the NCAA or the Conference, including any violation which occurred during prior employment of the Employee at another NCAA member institution.
Another clause gives Missouri the right to terminate the employment contract for ...
... any behavior of the employee that brings him into public disrepute, contempt, scandal or ridicule or any behavior that is unfavorable to the reputation or moral or ethical standards of the University.
That last one is slightly more vague; you could certainly argue that Haith's seedy inclusion in Yahoo! Sports' report has already caused disrepute, contempt, scandal and ridicule, and you could certainly see that behavior as unfavorable to the reputation of Mizzou athletics.
Whether Missouri can actually fire Haith is far murkier than it would seem. Much of the language above is predicated on the existence of evidence that caused NCAA violations. In other words, the behavior has to exist if Missouri can use it to terminate Haith's contract. This investigation isn't anywhere close to that stage yet, and Haith deserves a chance to tell the NCAA his side of the story.
Yahoo! Sports' report on Haith does include some troubling corroborating evidence, including 85 phone calls made between Shapiro and Haith between 2005 and 2010, despite a significant expunging of Shapiro's phone records. (In other words, 85 calls might be a mere sample.) There are also Shapiro's credit card receipts, which according to Shapiro corroborate outings at Prime 112, a Miami restaurant, and Solid Gold, a Miami strip club where Shapiro says he frequently treated Hurricanes players and coaches.
Does having dinner, hitting the pole club and being photographed with a felon convicted of running a $930 million Ponzi scheme constitute "cause?" It may not. More importantly, the key question in all of this is whether the NCAA can find that Haith either orchestrated or had direct knowledge of the alleged decision to give DeQuan Jones' family $10,000. That's the allegation that could change the trajectory of Haith's career, and the one Missouri might be forced to wait on before it can taken any action on its suddenly discredited coach.
In the meantime, the damage to Haith's reputation has already begun to haunt Missouri, and it's only been made worse by Alden's rationale for hiring Haith in the first place. When faced with the backlash for hiring a coach with a 43-69 career record in the ACC, Alden spoke highly of his new coach's character as one of the decision's major factors. From SI's Luke Winn:
Tigers athletic director Mike Alden had to fall back on less quantifiable justifications. Alden spoke of his new coach's experience recruiting in the Big 12 as an assistant at Texas. But what the AD really focused on, in his early defense of Haith, were the words "integrity" and "character" -- saying that Haith's "entire reputation is based on building young men of character," and that "Frank has the character and integrity we are looking for." One prominent Missouri booster, in an early article about the hiring, still seemed skeptical. "In this case, the margin for error isn't as great," he said. "[Alden] rises or falls with how Haith does."
Now Alden finds himself in a no-win situation. If he fires Haith, he could spark a messy lawsuit. (That lawsuit may or may not have grounds, but it's a risk all the same.) If he sticks by his coach, he could do even further damage to a Missouri program whose reputation only recently recovered from the shadow of Quin Synder's violation-filled tenure. Administrative leave is an option, but what happens to the 2011-12 Tigers, a team posed to compete for the Big 12 title, while their coach is in limbo?
And once Alden deals with all of that -- provided he even can -- he still has to answer questions about his knowledge, or lack thereof, of the NCAA's investigation into Miami. Did Haith mislead his future boss? Did Alden know and hire Haith anyway? That seems downright unbelievable, given Alden's public comments about Haith. But if Alden didn't know, well, why not? Isn't knowing these sorts of things about your coaching candidates part of being an athletic director in the first place? Or is that an unrealistic expectation?
These questions -- like those about Haith's behavior and knowledge in the obviously corrupt athletics culture at Miami -- aren't going away anytime soon. Missouri's legal mandate is unclear. And much of the reputation damage is already done.
But one thing is certain: On Tuesday, the hiring of Frank Haith went from "questionable" to "scorched earth disaster." If there's a way out, Mizzou has to find it.
When the brilliant investigative bombshell by Yahoo! Sports landed on the University of Miami's collective head Tuesday, the impact was felt most acutely by the football program.