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Shalala, Miami can win fight vs. NCAA

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Donna Shalala questions the tactics used by the NCAA under president Mark Emmert.
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Greg Couch

Greg Couch has been a national columnist at AOL Fanhouse and The Sporting News and an award-winning columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. He was featured twice in "Best American Sports Writing" and was recognized by the US Tennis Writers Association for best column writing and match coverage. He covers tennis on his personal blog. Follow him on Twitter.

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Put your money on Donna Shalala. She is fighting the way you have to in college sports ... dirty.

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This is classic. One day, NCAA president Mark Emmert admits his organization was out of control in its investigation of the Miami athletic department for its dealings with scuzzball booster Nevin Shapiro. The next day, the NCAA gives Miami its notice of allegations anyway, including the Big One:

Lack of institutional control.

Pot meet kettle.

Why the quick turnaround? That’s easy. Emmert is desperate. He is just about done as the NCAA’s president. His only hope of hanging onto his job now is to show that he’s still boss, still in control.

That he can still drop the bomb on Miami.

The thing is, Shalala, the Miami president and former Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Clinton, is playing politics here. It’s smart, and she’s strengthened by the NCAA’s flub-ups, while Emmert is weakened. Shalala can see that weakness and is banking on it.

It’s actually Miami’s whole defense.


Did you see what she said? She isn’t even denying Miami’s sleazy involvement with Shapiro. Instead, she is taking the classic defense: My accuser has no credibility.

Who can forget the picture of Shapiro at the bowling alley with a microphone, and Shalala standing next to him, staring down in seeming awe over the check he had just given her. (I first saw that photo at Yahoo! Sports, which broke much of the story in the first place a few years ago.)

It’s not that the allegations lack credibility.

“Many of the allegations included in the Notice of Allegations remain unsubstantiated. . .’’ Shalala said. “The NCAA enforcement staff could not find evidence of prostitution, expensive cars for players, expensive dinners paid for by (Shapiro), player bounty payments, rampant alcohol and drug use. . .’’’

She also said this: “Many of the charges brought forth are based on the word of a man who made a fortune by lying (At first, I thought she was talking about Emmert here, not Shapiro). The NCAA enforcement staff acknowledged to the University that if Nevin Shapiro, a convicted con man, said something more than once, it considered the allegation 'corroborated.'’’

This really takes, let’s just say, guts on Shalala’s part, to argue that you can’t take Shapiro’s word when he 'fessed up, because he’s a scuzzball. But there’s no question that The U had a relationship with him. Shalala was holding that check, appearing at his function.

This is the fight she can win: Shalala is going straight for Emmert.

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Miami penalized itself for two years, keeping itself out of bowl games and a possible conference championship game. Shalala argues that was punishment enough because, well, because Miami’s accuser, the NCAA, is dirty and was in bed with Shapiro. Of course, so was Miami.

But this is going to work, too. Emmert’s going to lose his job over this. Critics want him fired for the hypocrisy of the NCAA’s lack of institutional control. But he’s not going to be fired over that.

He’s going to lose his job because he has undercut his ability to govern, and to enforce the rules. He has rendered himself ineffective.

That’s Shalala’s power.

Once Emmert’s bosses deem that he can’t be an effective enforcement leader, then there is nothing left for him to do.

Already, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett is suing the NCAA over its handling of the Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State.

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Emmert is getting his comeuppance. The NCAA broke its own rules, too, in the way it went after Sandusky. It knew it had all the power, and that no one on earth was going to side with Penn State or Sandusky, after he raped young boys. So the NCAA ruled quickly on that one.

After Emmert admitted that his investigators in the Miami case gathered information unethically — paying nearly $20,000 to Shapiro’s attorney to use her subpoena power in Shapiro’s bankruptcy case to get info for the NCAA – plenty of people were calling for him to be fired.

Critics cited the NCAA’s tough stance on coaches, saying that if their assistants violated NCAA rules, then the head coaches were responsible, too. Here, people under Emmert were breaking rules and Emmert seemed not to be holding himself accountable one bit.

But that really doesn’t matter. The NCAA executive committee could dock his pay, suspend him, something. It doesn’t have to fire him.

What matters is whether Emmert is still able to walk the streets as the sheriff. If he loses the battle with Shalala, or even if it appears that he will, he’s going to lose his job. In fact, if public opinion turns strongly, he could be gone quickly.

After all, the NCAA got in bed with Shapiro.

Don’t forget: So did Miami.

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