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Miami takes its turn on wheel of scandal

Culture is recyclable. What goes out almost inevitably comes back. Thus the suspicion that we're in 1980s recycle mode is now confirmed via fashion and football.

Girls are dyeing their hair pink. Big glasses have made a resurgence. And there is college football scandal from coast to coast.

What started in Los Angeles at USC has rippled through other prominent addresses nationwide: Columbus, Eugene, Auburn, Baton Rouge, Knoxville, Atlanta, Chapel Hill … now the brewing cataclysm in Coral Gables. And that may not be all. A well-connected college official last week predicted "a busy fall" for alleged rules violations.

The only difference from the '80s is that the cheating contagion has thus far skipped the Southwest. That was ground zero back then.

The retro movement appears to be ongoing on the gridiron. Once the embarrassment reached a saturation point in the '80s, the establishment reacted. School presidents got active, academic reforms such as Proposition 48 were instituted, and the NCAA dished out the ultimate deterrent, the so-called death penalty. SMU is still recovering from that infamous 1987 shutdown.

Last week NCAA presidents once again stepped forward, convening in Indianapolis, and delivered a mandate for academic upgrades. And they also made clear a desire to see the serious cheaters get hit hard.

"Coaches, athletes and boosters should be afraid now if they're going to go out and break rules," Penn State president Graham Spanier said.

That is Miami's cue to be afraid.

The Yahoo! story that broke -- erupted, really -- on Tuesday covers nearly everything on the Whopper Allegation Checklist. Payoffs to current and former Hurricanes, improper benefits for recruits, coaches in the know and on the take, willfully ignorant administrators … if only there were a bogus SAT score in the mix, Miami would have hit for the scandal cycle.

(That one missing ingredient is somewhat offset by the salaciousness of the details. Class act Nevin Shapiro allegedly supplied hookers, strippers, an abortion, an engagement ring, SUV rims and a whole lot more for dozens of Hurricanes. He was the Wal-Mart of sleaze -- one-stop shopping. And by the way: If you want to allow college athletes to earn endorsement money, guess what kind of guys will be lined up to give it to them? No-perspective creeps like Shapiro who derive their esteem from playing the big shot to players. If granting those guys greater access to the program is a good idea, go for it.)

If the '80s flashback is going to continue, that brings us to the ultimate penalty. The death penalty.

"I do see some parallels," said Georgia State football coach Bill Curry, who was at Georgia Tech and Alabama in the '80s and ranks among the wisest men in his profession. "We've had so much bubble to the surface. It's been stunning what's happened the last few months.

"[In the '80s] I remember thinking, 'The presidents are dead serious about this.' I think this is a similar time. … There seems to be an ebb and flow, and we're back in an era where they're going to hammer the big boys."

The extent to which Miami can and will be hammered remains unknown, of course. What is reported by the media does not always translate to what is formally alleged by NCAA enforcement. Then the school has a chance to respond to those allegations, and ultimately the Committee on Infractions must weigh both sides and mete out a punishment.

So we're a long way from knowing how this will all play out. But the death penalty is applicable for "repeat violators," and Miami would seem to fit that definition.

In 2003, the Hurricanes were put on probation and docked scholarships for baseball infractions. In the Committee on Infractions report, it defined Miami then as a repeat violator, which means that it committed major violations while already on probation for previous violations -- that would be the famed 1995 case that involved a widespread, multisport Pell Grant scam and other shenanigans. The Canes' football program got a one-year bowl ban in that case.

In the 2003 case, the NCAA noted that the baseball violations occurred in the years immediately following the '95 ruling and criticized the school for failing to increase its monitoring of its programs. The 2003 case also contains this paragraph:

"As required by NCAA legislation for any institution involved in a major infractions case, Miami shall be subject to the provisions of NCAA Bylaw 19.6.2.3, concerning repeat violators, for a five-year period beginning on the effective date of the penalties in this case, February 27, 2003."

According to Yahoo!, Nevin Shapiro was going full throttle from 2002 to 2010. Which means, if the allegations are proved, Miami was breaking rules left and right while on probation.

That would seemingly make Miami a repeat-repeat violator, basically operating outside the rules continuously in one program or another from the early '90s through last year. And if the NCAA has been directed to step up the punishments of cheaters, a repeat-repeat violator would seem to be in really-really big trouble.

Perhaps up to and including the death penalty.

To be clear, SMU's '87 death penalty did not eradicate scandal in college football, even in the short term. It was 1989 when Oklahoma quarterback Charles Thompson appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in an orange prison jumpsuit after a cocaine trafficking bust, and 1992 when Auburn defensive back Eric Ramsey appeared on "60 Minutes" with pay-for-play revelations.

But the devastation of the Mustangs program did appear to slow down the corruption, and the scandal docket seemed less cluttered in the years that followed.

"It did [serve as a deterrent]," Curry said. "But because it was so devastating, it made the NCAA folks reticent to apply it again."

Now the question is whether we need a reintroduction of that nuclear option.

It's a more complicated penalty to assess nowadays. A complete program shutdown would adversely affect high-dollar conference television packages and impact revenue streams at multiple athletic departments. A conference commissioner would certainly object and potentially try to influence those charged with making such a decision. Legal challenges would be a distinct possibility. Public outcry would be louder than ever. Scheduling would be thrown into turmoil.

But here is the truth about Miami football: Ever since its rise to power in the early 1980s, trouble has been its sidekick.

In 1981, the Canes were hit with a bowl ban for major violations. In 1995, Sports Illustrated was sufficiently appalled by the state of the program that it helpfully suggested the school drop football. (Miami declined.) Now we have the sprouting of what could blossom into one of the bigger scandals in college football history.

Given what else has happened just in the last 15 months, that's saying something.

"When I speak to groups, I usually say that college football is not as bad as you think -- that there are far more good things happening," Curry said. "Now when I say that, it's hard to get people to not laugh at you."

In order to restore its reputation, the NCAA must get tough on crime. Miami has had the extraordinarily bad timing of providing a highly flammable test case for that resolve.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.