NCAA investigating Miami program

Updated: August 17, 2011, 10:17 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- The NCAA said Wednesday it has been investigating the relationship between a convicted Ponzi scheme artist and the University of Miami for five months, and the allegations -- if true -- show the need for "serious and fundamental change" in college sports.

"We were well aware of it and weren't surprised by the sensational media coverage. We've been on top of it for a while, gathering information and collecting data," NCAA president Mark Emmert said Wednesday in an interview with ESPN Radio's "Mike and Mike in the Morning."

Emmert said typical investigations take six to seven months to complete.

Former booster Nevin Shapiro, serving 20 years in federal prison, claims he treated players to sex parties, nightclub outings, cars and other gifts. Shapiro told Yahoo! Sports he provided improper benefits to 72 football players and other athletes at Miami from 2002 to 2010.

"If the assertions are true, the alleged conduct at the University of Miami is an illustration of the need for serious and fundamental change in many critical aspects of college sports," Emmert said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon.

An NCAA source told ESPN.com's Pat Forde all penalties are on the table -- including the death penalty, which would shut down the football program for at least a year. Miami's baseball team was put on probation in 2003, but schools do not have to be repeat violators to be eligible for the death penalty, the source said.

The NCAA has issued the death penalty once in football -- to SMU for the 1987 and '88 seasons.

"I would caution you not to jump to that," first-year Miami coach Al Golden said when asked about the death penalty. "That's a big jump."

The Hurricanes' entire football team took the practice field Wednesday, though Shapiro's claims involve several current players. Golden said it was too soon to take disciplinary action.

The Hurricanes open their season Sept. 5 against Maryland.

"Everybody is practicing," said Golden. "If it is determined somebody broke rules, then certainly they'll be first dealt with. ... As we get ready for Maryland, hopefully we'll swiftly learn if errors were made. If there are guys that are going to have to sit out games, we'll adjust our practice accordingly.

"We were ready for a lot of things in preseason camp, this was not one of them," Golden said later. "We'll manage it."

Players weren't permitted to speak with the media.

Last week, Emmert led a group of university presidents in drafting an outline for change in college sports, including higher academic standards, a streamlined rule book and new parameters for athletic scholarships. The group included Miami president Donna Shalala.

"The serious threats to the integrity of college sports are one of the key reasons why I called together more than 50 presidents and chancellors last week to drive substantive changes to Division I intercollegiate athletics," Emmert said in his statement Wednesday.

The allegations against Miami -- a program that once reveled in an outlaw image and dealt with a massive Pell Grant scandal in the 1990s -- have sparked the latest in a string of NCAA investigations involving some of college football's most high-profile and successful programs.

In the past 18 months, football teams at Southern California, Ohio State, Auburn, Oregon, Michigan, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and LSU all have been investigated or sanctioned by the NCAA.

NCAA investigators were on the Miami campus this week in the wake of the allegations by Shapiro, and have interviewed Shalala and athletic director Shawn Eichorst. Shapiro was sentenced to prison in June for masterminding a $930 million Ponzi scheme, plus ordered to pay more than $82 million in restitution to investors.

Shalala said she was "upset, disheartened, and saddened by the recent allegations."

"We will vigorously pursue the truth, wherever that path may lead, and I have insisted upon complete, honest, and transparent cooperation with the NCAA from our staff and students," Shalala said in a statement Wednesday. "Our counsel is working jointly with the NCAA enforcement division in a thorough and meticulous investigation."

Golden said he's eager to obtain answers quickly, in part so his players don't repeat past mistakes.

"If they were exposed to Mr. Shapiro, clearly we have to make sure we prevent that going forward," Golden said. "You do that by getting to the facts. How did this guy, if he did, get around our players like that? As a head coach, I want to know. I know our assistant coaches want to know. We want to make sure it never happens again. It shouldn't happen."

Current Miami players named by Shapiro as receiving benefits included quarterback Jacory Harris, Ray Ray Armstrong, Travis Benjamin, Sean Spence, Marcus Forston, Vaughn Telemaque, Dyron Dye, Aldarius Johnson and Olivier Vernon.

Former Miami coach Larry Coker said Wednesday that NCAA investigators haven't contacted him about the report.

Coker, who was at Miami from 2001 to 2006, is now at Texas-San Antonio in his first coaching job since the Hurricanes fired him.

"Compliance issues have always been of utmost importance to me throughout my career," Coker said in a statement. "Since I have not been contacted by either the NCAA or Miami, it would be inappropriate for me to discuss any alleged rules violations at another university."

Former Hurricanes quarterback Robert Marve, now at Purdue, also was named by Shapiro, Yahoo! Sports said.

Purdue said in a statement Wednesday that it had reviewed Marve's eligibility with the NCAA in response to the report, and no issues were found.

Yahoo! Sports published its story Tuesday afternoon, saying it spent 100 hours interviewing Shapiro in a span of 11 months and audited thousands of pages of financial and business records to examine his claims.

"I did it because I could," Shapiro said of his spending. "And because nobody stepped in to stop me."

A person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press that much of Shapiro's access to Hurricanes programs in recent years was approved by former athletic director Kirby Hocutt, who has since left the school for Texas Tech. The person spoke to The AP on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing joint investigation between the university and the NCAA.

Hocutt, the person said, allowed Shapiro on the sideline before football games at times during the 2008 season, plus invited him to select gatherings reserved for the athletic department's biggest donors.

"That's what Kirby did," the person said. "His No. 1 job was to raise money and this Nevin Shapiro guy was one of the few people Kirby could get to write checks."

Shapiro also had been on the Miami sideline before games an unknown number of times before Hocutt's arrival as athletic director in 2008.

Hocutt denied any wrongdoing in a statement Wednesday.

"There are membership levels within the Hurricane Club at the University of Miami," he wrote. "While I was athletics director, the benefits and experiences Mr. Shapiro received were consistent with those provided to others at his membership level. I never personally approved any special access for Mr. Shapiro to university athletics events or programs."

Shapiro dubbed himself "Little Luke" in reference to Luther Campbell -- aka Luke Skyywalker, the rapper who was a constant presence on the Hurricanes' sideline during their 1980s glory days.

Campbell took exception to any comparisons.

"Nevin Shapiro wishes he could wear my shorts for one day," Campbell wrote in a blog post. "That punk could never be me. First of all, I have never been a UM booster. I have never given a dime to the school. I have and always will support the players and the program out of civic pride, but I never violated any NCAA rules when I was the team's biggest fan in the 1980s."

Former Nebraska defensive end Benard Thomas told the AP he was on Shapiro's yacht with two former Hurricanes players, Kellen Winslow Jr. and D.J. Williams, in 2005 when they had finished college.

"We all had money ourselves," Thomas said. "We didn't need anything from him."

Thomas described Shapiro as "cool."

"He was a nice guy," Thomas said. "I've got nothing bad to say about him."

Shapiro began making his allegations about a year ago. Golden joined the Hurricanes in December after Randy Shannon was fired. Eichorst was hired as athletic director in April to replace Hocutt.

Golden said when he interviewed for the job, Miami officials did not tell him about Shapiro's allegations.

"If they knew this was percolating, I believe they did have a responsibility to tell me," Golden said. "I believe they have a responsibility to tell Shawn. But look, I'm happy here. My wife is happy here. We have great kids on this team."

New York Giants safety Antrel Rolle is alleged to have accepted thousands of dollars in cash gifts, a $7,500 watch, multiple trips to strip clubs and nightclubs and other impermissible benefits from Shapiro.

Rolle addressed the allegations and his relationship with Shapiro Wednesday afternoon. He did not issue any direct denial when asked about the veracity of claims in the Yahoo! report.

"Right now, to me it doesn't matter what's true and what's not true," Rolle said. "Like, there's really nothing for me to comment on with this guy. Obviously he's on a rampage to cause, you know, havoc. And, you know, I'm just going to let him do his talking because right now it's really irrelevant and it (doesn't) concern me at this point."

Saints linebacker and former Miami star Jonathan Vilma says it's unfortunate that accusations against his former college team are being "brought up from a guy who's in jail."

Vilma says he has "no reaction at all" to allegations made by Shapiro The report showed Shapiro and Vilma together in a photo. Vilma says it's unnecessary to "go back and forth with someone who's in jail and try to explain yourself."

Miami was once among the best and most intimidating teams in college football, but Shapiro was around the program during a period of only modest success for the Hurricanes, who won their most recent national championship in 2001.

"I'm not upset about the U allegations," tweeted Cleveland Indians closer Chris Perez, who pitched at Miami. "I'm mad we didn't win anything while we were cheating."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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