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Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Ex-Canes disappointed by allegations

By Mark Schlabach
ESPN.com

Former Miami quarterback Gino Torretta, who won the 1992 Heisman Trophy and helped guide the Hurricanes to national championships in 1989 and 1991, on Wednesday was still coming to grips with the latest scandal to engulf his alma mater.

Torretta, who works as a financial adviser and sports-talk radio host in Miami, had never heard of Nevin Shapiro until last year, when the former Hurricanes booster was indicted for orchestrating a $930 million Ponzi scheme.

Gino Torretta
Gino Torretta won two national championships during his Miami career.

On Tuesday, Torretta learned that Shapiro's far-reaching damage also extends to the UM football program.

Shapiro, who was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison and is currently being held in Atlanta, told Yahoo! Sports that he provided millions of dollars in improper benefits to 72 current and former Miami football players. Shapiro also alleges Miami's basketball coaches and a handful of former football assistants were aware of his actions.

"I don't know how to explain it," Torretta said. "It almost gets worse as I keep re-reading this article. You don't know what's true and what are only allegations. Some people are saying, 'death penalty,' and others are like, 'no way.'"

But Torretta also knows the Hurricanes are in serious trouble with the NCAA if any of Shapiro's allegations are true.

"If 10 percent of this is true or 30 percent is true, it's still bad," Torretta said. "It's awful."

Torretta said he not only blames the dozens of UM players who allegedly accepted Shapiro's cash gifts, trips to lavish restaurants and strip clubs, and junkets on his $1.6 million yacht, but also Miami's administration for not doing a better job of monitoring the rogue booster.

Miami named its football players' lounge for Shapiro after he made a $150,000 donation to the athletic department (his name was removed after he failed to follow through on the entire donation). Yahoo! Sports also published a photo showing university president Donna Shalala accepting a $50,000 donation from Shapiro for Miami's men's basketball program.

"I think it's disgusting, really," Torretta said. "It's the hypocritical nature of college sports, where a university can take a donation from a booster that's going to improve its facilities, but [players] can't be associated with him. I'm just kind of disgusted with the university. It's like taking a recovering drug addict to a party where there are a lot of drugs. It's too inviting. How many kids can say no?"

Former Miami defensive lineman Dan Sileo, now a sports-talk radio host in Tampa, Fla., blasted former Hurricanes coaches Larry Coker and Randy Shannon for allowing Shapiro access to the program.

"Larry Coker and Randy Shannon should be ashamed for what they fostered," Sileo said. "Donna Shalala allowed people to sit there and go through the charades that the program was being turned around. The only thing she was worried about was graduation rates. Just because you have good grades doesn't mean you're a good kid."

More than anything else, Torretta doesn't understand why Miami officials didn't ask more questions about Shapiro. At the time Shapiro was entertaining Miami's athletes and coaches, he also had a financial interest in a Jacksonville, Fla.-based sports agency business. The now-defunct sports management agency, Axcess Sports & Entertainment, signed two high-profile Miami players who became NFL first-round picks: New England Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork and Carolina Panthers linebacker Jon Beason.

"I'm disappointed because it almost seems like if you write a check, you walk right in and get instant access," Torretta said. "College sports is an arms race and it's about what you have. I know this is a bad economy, but that's no excuse. They didn't protect the university or the kids and didn't ask any questions. Why wouldn't you ask: 'What kind of business are you in? Why do you want to give money to Miami when it's not your school?' Those are simple questions."

Former Miami athletic director Kirby Hocutt, who now works at Texas Tech, issued a statement Wednesday, in which he said Shapiro wasn't given any preferential treatment.

"There are membership levels within the Hurricane Club at the University of Miami," Hocutt 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."

Torretta wasn't alone in his disappointment. Former Miami quarterback Jim Kelly, who helped put the Hurricanes on the map as their starting quarterback during the early 1980s, told ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike in the Morning" on Wednesday that Miami's players had to know they were breaking NCAA rules.

"When you start talking about some of the things that he was offering these guys and they were accepting them, they've gotta know that this is not right," Kelly said. "That sooner or later you have that many players involved in this, that somebody's gonna find out, you're gonna get caught and you're gonna take 'The U' down with you. You have to have some belief in your own heart and mind that this is not right."

Sileo said his UM teammates in the late 1980s were afraid to take cash payments from boosters. The SMU scandal, in which the Mustangs became the first and only football program to receive the NCAA's death penalty in 1986, was still unfolding in Dallas.

Sileo said former Hurricanes coach Jimmy Johnson did a good job of keeping agents and runners away from his players for the most part. But rapper Luther Campbell -- aka Luke Skyywalker -- was still around the Hurricanes during the 1980s.

"I remember being offered $25,000, but I didn't take it because SMU was still fresh and it was on our minds," Sileo said. "Free meals and trips on a yacht? I'm not going to say it didn't happen during the Luther Campbell era because it did. We took the meals and parties Luther would put on for us at the Fontainebleau [Hotel in Miami]. But none of us would take cash because we knew what happened to SMU."

More than two decades later, Torretta hopes Miami doesn't become that kind of example for the rest of college football.

"The worst part is to think my school won't have football again," Torretta said. "If it's the death penalty or something like that, kids can't come down here to play football. To [imagine] not being able to turn on the TV in the fall and see my alma mater play, that's the worst part of it."

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.