Classes start at Miami, where scandal cloud hovers

A security guard sat outside the building that houses many of

Miami’s athletic department offices on Wednesday, a new sign of

troubled times for the Hurricanes.

Typically, anyone can walk into the Hecht Athletic Center during

business hours without being questioned. Not now, not with tensions

high and fraying during the wait to see which football players the

university decides will be eligible to play in the Sept. 5

season-opener at Maryland. Miami is looking into the actions of 15

student-athletes over claims that rogue booster Nevin Shapiro

provided benefits to them and dozens of others against NCAA

rules.

So as classes began Wednesday, the scandal clearly seemed to be

overshadowing many first-day-of-school aspects across the

campus.

”The mood here is probably concern,” said Miami student

government press secretary Mike Piacentino, ”but definitely still

optimistic and excited and ready for the football season

ahead.”

Yes, that season is fast-approaching. And what happens next –

deciding which 60 players will be on the plane to Maryland – may

provide some very important clues into the state of the

investigation that started five months ago and turned into a

nationwide talking point after Shapiro, a convicted Ponzi scheme

architect serving a 20-year prison sentence for running a $930

million scam, detailed his allegations to Yahoo Sports.

Shapiro said 12 current football players and one men’s

basketball player accepted extra benefits from him. Earlier this

week, Miami President Donna Shalala said the university is looking

into 15 students who have been implicated in the investigation into

Shapiro’s claims.

”There are strong allegations,” said Brandon Mitchell, the

student body president. ”But at the same time, there’s still a lot

of factfinding to be done.”

That’s why there’s still no concrete answers.

Miami coach Al Golden has not met with reporters since Saturday,

and is not scheduled to do so again until Thursday morning. It’s

unknown when the depth chart for the Maryland game will be

released. And Golden’s work in putting that list together is

extremely complicated, since many of the players alleged to be

under investigation like quarterback Jacory Harris, linebacker Sean

Spence and safety Ray Ray Armstrong, are among the team’s

standouts.

If Golden has made decisions, he hasn’t said publicly yet.

”We’re Hurricanes,” Piacentino said. ”We have swagger. We are

proud of it. Initially when you first hear about it, you start to

get concerned. And then you talk to your friends and you realize,

we’re still going to be the Miami Hurricanes. No one can take that

away from us.”

Shows of support have popped up around the Miami community, much

of it fueled by social media.

A Twitter hashtag – (hash)IStandWithTheU – was trending

nationally last weekend. Another effort encouraging students and

staff to wear orange, one of the school’s colors, on campus

Wednesday generated more buzz than organizers expected. Even

running back Lamar Miller got into the act, wearing a bright orange

shirt with the distinctive ”U” logo around campus.

”Nice shirt, Lamar,” a female said as she jogged by,

waving.

Miller nodded and smiled as he kept walking into the Hecht a

little bit after lunchtime.

”A lot of people around the country are talking about how this

could end up being the death of the legacy and the death of an

entire program,” Mitchell said. ”But I don’t personally see it

that way at all. I think from what I’ve seen so far on campus, this

is uniting everyone. This makes us want to go out and support the

team more than ever.”

Miami has joined a growing list of schools with major football

programs to be investigated by the NCAA for rule-breaking in the

past 18 months. Others include Southern California, Ohio State,

Auburn, Oregon, Michigan, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and LSU.

Shapiro told Yahoo Sports that he provided 72 football players –

65 of whom suited up for the Hurricanes – with cars, money, gifts

and even prostitutes between 2002 and 2010. Shapiro’s claims also

implicate 10 Miami football and basketball coaches, none of whom

are still employed by the university.

Miami has hired attorneys who specialize in NCAA investigations

to assist with the fact-finding process, which is not expected to

end anytime soon.

”The players that I’ve talked to about it, I went in thinking

that they’d be upset with all the allegations and whatever the

future holds,” said Mitchell, a sport administration major. ”But

the ones that I talked to, they’re positive. They’re taking coach

Golden’s advice and just focusing on Maryland. Because at this

point, there’s nothing they can do. The NCAA was already on campus.

They already did the interviews. Now it’s just a waiting

game.”