By now, the irony -- or amusing circumstance, or whatever it is -- of former Miami athletic director Paul Dee's recent role as the chair of the NCAA Committee on Infractions has been lost on no one. The revelations and allegations in Yahoo!'s damning report about former Miami booster and convicted Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro are embarrassing now matter how you break them down. But the idea that the Shapiro mess could happen while Dee was at the school -- before Dee would go on to weigh judgement on other NCAA violators, including the major USC investigation, while saying things like "high-profile players demand high-profile compliance" -- borders on farce. Honestly, you couldn't make this stuff up.
Long Beach State University president F. King Alexander is struggling to find the funny side. In 2008, CSULB's men's basketball program was cited by the COI for self-reported violations involving impermissible tutoring and other major and secondary violations. The penalties were harsh but fair; CSULB was put on three years' probation and forced to forfeit scholarships, which is basically standard operating procedure for that kind of violation.
"Dee told us, 'You have to put in place the kind of institutional control we have at Miami,"' Alexander related with irritation. "And one of the other members of the NCAA Infractions Committee in that hearing was from Nebraska. On that same day, six Nebraska athletes were arrested for illegally selling sporting apparel."
"The hypocrisy of the NCAA makes me sick," he said. "To allow institutions like Miami and Nebraska to chair and oversee its infractions committee is like putting foxes in charge of the henhouse."
Once you get past the personal anger -- USC fans (and anyone else punished by the Dee-era Committee on Infractions) aren't going to let this one go for a while, I'm sure -- the more pertinent question is how the NCAA can avoid this sort of embarrassment in the future. Is it even possible? How can you be sure your regulators don't need their own regulation?
I'm not sure there's an easy answer. The obvious choice would be to staff the committee with exclusively non-affiliated personnel. That means no athletic directors and no law school professors. Rather, the committee should be as impartial and free of possible conflicts of interest as possible. But even then, there's always the possibility that some unknown issue will creep up; surely no one at the NCAA office had any idea Dee would find himself in this kind of position at any point during or after his tenure. (For as good a job as the NCAA typically does on seeding and selecting the NCAA tournament field every year, I'd argue that this principle should apply to the NCAA tournament selection committee, too. But that's another argument for another day.) And it's not like the COI is full of current athletic directors already.
That solution might be unrealistic. We see this in politics, in policing, in nearly every walk of life: Even those that are supposed to uphold our laws and rules can be guilty of looking the other way when those rules would apply to them. Dee says he didn't know what Shapiro was doing in the eight years Shapiro says he broke countless NCAA rules. If that's true, he seems clueless. If he did know -- even if he had some faint idea -- he seems willfully corrupt.
At the very least, the word "hypocrite," strong though it may be, fits like a glove. If there's a way for the NCAA to ensure this never happens again -- and again, I'm not sure there is -- now's the time to find it. What was that phrase? "High-profile compliance?" Right. Exactly.