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How Miami avoided the NCAA's wrath
The vast response to the NCAA’s Miami verdict Tuesday was one of befuddlement.
Miami will lose nine scholarships over the next three seasons and serve a three-year “probation” – which is another way of saying the 'Canes are subject to high-intensity daycare – but otherwise it will move forward without further penalty. There is no bowl ban, which the NCAA concluded wasn’t necessary after the school issued its own for the last two seasons.
So how did Miami avoid a full serving of the NCAA’s wrath? It can be summed up in five steps.
1. Be active and upfront about self-reporting violations
In November 2009, Miami notified NCAA officials in Indianapolis that it might have a potential problem.
Then in March of the following year, according to the NCAA’s public findings, Miami self-reported that 32 coaches across multiple sports and two staff members violated rules regarding text messages and telephone contacts to prospects from August 2007 to December 2008.
The 'Canes followed that up with more information in May and then joined together with NCAA enforcement staff to conduct interviews and gather further information.
Getting the NCAA to believe that you actually care about each violation as it’s defined in the rule book – and that you want to help the NCAA make sure no impermissible text message is ever sent again – is always the first step to earning a favorable ruling.
Good start for the 'Canes.
2. Fall on your own sword
Don’t make the NCAA dig through the innards of a beached whale. Nobody needs that.
Miami humbled itself by self-imposing its own sanctions, which included a two-year bowl ban for the 2011 and 2012 seasons (that kept Miami from playing in the 2012 ACC championship game) and various penalties regarding recruiting.
The 'Canes voluntarily cut official paid recruiting visits for 2012-13 to 36 – a 20 percent decrease – and also reduced its number of contact days during the ’12-13 contact period by the same percentage.
In a conference call Tuesday, Britton Banowsky, chair of the Committee on Infractions, called these self-imposed sanctions “unprecedented.”
3. Make the NCAA believe those self-imposed sanctions actually hurt
Miami certainly has been hurt by its self-imposed sanctions, particularly losing the opportunity to play in the 2012 ACC title game with a berth to the Orange bowl available.
The 'Canes went 6-6 in 2011, though, and whatever low-tier bowl game that record might have earned them likely would have cost the program money for attending. Sure, there are other benefits to playing in bowl games other than monetary ones, with the most vital being recruiting juice.
That’s Miami’s best argument for how dearly it has paid during the last three years – that the deliberate NCAA timeline forced its recruiting muscles to atrophy. Well, it’s sort of true.
I’m sure the 'Canes were targets of some negative recruiting tactics while this case hung over them, but let’s look at how they did in their last four classes (every class since notifying the NCAA in November 2009 of possible infractions). For a quick consensus, we’ll take the class rankings from Scout.com, Rivals.com and ESPN’s Scouts Inc. and average them.
In 2010, Miami had an average national class rank of 14. The following season, that dropped to 38th in the first year under Al Golden before vaulting to ninth in 2012, which is the class that nabbed the 'Canes running back Duke Johnson.
Last season, Miami closed the recruiting period strong to finish in the top 20 again with an average class ranking of 17.
Golden has been on record as recently as this season saying that the NCAA’s investigation continues to harm future recruiting classes, particularly 2015.
Miami’s 2014 class? It’s currently in the top five of all three national rankings mentioned above.
Again, it’s undeniable that the investigation has had some impact on Miami’s recruiting efforts. But by these measures, it seems the 'Canes haven’t suffered as much as we presume they have, which is really a testament to Golden.
4. Stay quiet and stay in line
When the NCAA hit USC with a two-year bowl ban and 30 scholarship reductions, among other fringe penalties, it was an unprecedented blow.
USC immediately voiced its displeasure and has continued to ask the NCAA to reevaluate the scholarship penalties, which it is still serving. The NCAA (surprisingly) swiftly denied those requests. Its 67-page report issued in June 2010 detailed the Trojans’ somewhat defiant nature toward the process.
Of course, USC wasn’t wrong. It had a great reason to be angry — but that doesn’t matter, even in the slightest, when dealing with the NCAA.
The lesson, as always, is to just say nothing and publicly present your position as one of complete support for the NCAA’s process. Don’t take a stance.
Miami mastered this tactic, with Golden repeatedly saying over the last three years how complicated the investigation is, how these things take time, how Miami respects the work the NCAA has to do, how the 'Canes just want to comply with headquarters and then move forward as best as possible.
The 'Canes never acted like they were wronged, and therefore the NCAA didn’t feel like its authority – which it knows is crumbling – was being challenged. Regarding Miami’s willingness to work with the NCAA on this case, Banowsky said, “the level of cooperation in the case was commendable.”
So, let’s see: Admit your own mistakes; discipline yourself; show your pain; get the NCAA to appreciate your cooperation. Miami is putting on a compliance clinic.
The only matter left is one of fortune.
5. If you’re not first, you’re definitely not last
The NCAA needed to get one scalp, so it got USC’s. There will never be another ruling quite like that one again.
The Canes were fortunate not to be first into the NCAA’s torture chamber, because there was plenty here to nail them if the NCAA wanted to.
There was an impressive cash flow, gaudy parties, seedy details, a felon who’s serving a 20-year sentence for orchestrating a Ponzi scheme, agents, coaches and administrative officials in the know, a million silly little rules broken. The NCAA even levied its favorite term, “institutional control,” and wrote in its report that the 'Canes lost control for a decade.
So, yeah, there was a case to make for real pain being brought to Coral Gables. Was the NCAA’s own embarrassment and sloppy handling of the case the real reason Miami got off rather cheaply?
Perhaps. The NCAA had to toss out nearly 20 percent of evidence because it was “obtained incorrectly.” An external review of the investigation in February revealed that part of that obtaining process included paying Shapiro’s lawyer to collect information for the NCAA.
None of that matters now. Miami did its own time and played the NCAA’s punishment game perfectly. The only thing left now to play is football.