NCAA the big loser in Miami case

The NCAA Committee on Infractions found that Miami committed a wide array of the most serious violations in the NCAA Division I Manual, from booster Nevin Shapiro entertaining student-athletes and recruits, to several football and basketball coaches knowing about it and lying about it to the NCAA, to the dreaded charge (ominous music here) of lack of institutional control.

But the announcement that the NCAA would take away only three football scholarships and one basketball scholarship in each of the next three seasons came as a whimper, not a bang. No, the banging presumably came from USC, where officials dealing with the NCAA-mandated loss of 10 scholarships per year are slamming their heads against the wall.

The difference, very simply, is that Miami cooperated and USC didn't. Miami's top officials moved to investigate and USC's didn't. Former USC athletic director Mike Garrett mocked the NCAA's decision against the Trojans as "nothing but a lot of envy," which pretty much captured his attitude during the entire NCAA investigation of the Reggie Bush case. By doing so, Garrett provided his alma mater with a legacy more bitter than his 1965 Heisman Trophy is sweet.

Committee on Infractions chair Britton Banowsky said the NCAA has no sentencing guidelines. Each case has a unique set of facts, and the membership of the committee typically isn't the same from one academic year to the next.

"We don't do a great deal of comparative analysis," Banowsky said. But the message the committee sent in the Miami case, when compared to USC, is clear. Banowsky, in explaining the scholarship penalties, described the university's self-imposed penalties as "significant" and "unprecedented."

From its assortment of punishments, the NCAA pretty much went with time served. Miami announced its self-imposed penalties, which included a two-year bowl ban, and reduced official visits, recruiting evaluations and available contact days, in 2011, so long ago that the university already has completed them.

The self-imposed two-year bowl ban cost the Hurricanes in each of the past two seasons, including a berth in the 2012 ACC Championship Game. Miami finished in a three-way tie for the Coastal Division title and had defeated its co-champion Georgia Tech. North Carolina, the other co-champion, was also serving a postseason ban, so Georgia Tech played in the championship game and lost to Florida State 21-15.

Perhaps the cloud under which Miami has been living as this complicated, controversial and voluminous case inched toward conclusion has been its own form of punishment. Hurricanes football coach Al Golden went 30 games deep into his tenure before knowing the boundaries under which he would be working.

With the announcement of these penalties, it is clear that the biggest loser in this case is the NCAA itself. The revelation earlier this year that the NCAA had improperly obtained evidence through a federal bankruptcy proceeding undermined the NCAA's credibility with the public and, more important, its own membership.

The NCAA withdrew the tainted evidence, and Banowsky said the evidence had no effect on the case because the committee never saw it. However, it did extend the life of a case already made lengthy by more than 100 witness interviews. It also squirted a shot of jaundice into the public eye.

The announcement that Miami football would lose nine scholarships compared to the 30 that the NCAA took from USC will cause Joe Fan to ask questions. Banowsky's answer that one is apples and the other oranges may be correct, but that doesn't mean the public will find it satisfactory. With this announcement, Miami can emerge from its public purgatory and return to life among the football relevant.

The NCAA will remain behind, perhaps with a bumper sticker that reads, "Thank God for Congress." If nothing else, the NCAA can exhale, secure in the knowledge that this long, ugly chapter in the organization's life is over.