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Dee dished it out; can he take it?

The Daily DAN WOLKEN
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Dan Wolken

   
 

During the nine years he served on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions, former University of Miami athletic director Paul Dee helped rule on more than 80 cases of major violations. As chairman, he hammered Southern Cal’s football program for the illegal benefits taken by Reggie Bush, remarking that “high-profile players demand high-profile compliance.” When his committee stripped the Memphis basketball team of its 2008 Final Four, Dee said the school had a “strict liability,” even though there was no evidence it knew about Derrick Rose’s phony SAT.

Those words now serve as a tapestry of humiliation on a scale never before been seen in college athletics. While Dee’s intellectually lazy, breathtakingly arrogant committee was screaming that athletic departments should have known about the wrongdoing under their noses, his athletic department was in the midst of a scandal that only the willfully ignorant could have missed.

Make no mistake, the allegations made yesterday by former Miami booster Nevin Shapiro — and the mountains of corroborating evidence he provided to Yahoo! Sports — will be one of the biggest infractions cases NCAA history. It involves illegal benefits to at least 72 athletes provided by Shapiro, now serving a 20-year sentence in federal prison for his role in a $930 million Ponzi scheme. It involves prostitutes, lavish parties, gifts, cash and ties to a sports agency. It involves coaches who partied with Shapiro and allegedly knew that he was breaking NCAA rules.

But most of all, it involves a school president in Donna Shalala and a former athletic director in Dee who happily took Shapiro’s donations, gave him access to their athletic programs and honored him for his contributions. On multiple occasions, he even led the football team out of the tunnel at the Orange Bowl.

“We didn’t have any suspicion he was doing anything like this,” Dee told the Palm Beach Post yesterday. “He didn’t do anything to cause concern.”

Hard to imagine Dee's words could betray him more.

If Dee left any legacy on the Committee on Infractions, it’s this: The committee sends whatever message it wants to send, whether there’s evidence the school knew or not. And now that his former program is about to be served up on a platter, there’s no doubt what that message needs to be.

It’s time to put the “death penalty” back on the table. It’s time to shut down Miami football.

Even if the NCAA finds every one of Shapiro’s allegations to be true and supported by evidence, this is not the worst scandal college athletics has ever seen. But it’s not that far removed, either, from the elements involved in suspending SMU football from competition in 1987 — the most severe penalty the NCAA has ever handed out.

There is a school of thought that the NCAA will never do to another program what it did to SMU. The ramifications are too severe for those left behind. The television contracts, which are based in part on marquee programs like Miami appearing several times a year, are too large.

But Dee was exactly right -- high-profile athletes do require high-profile compliance. Administrators who make hundreds of thousands of dollars do have a strict liability to do everything in their power to make sure NCAA rules are being followed. And nowhere is that more important than in a city like Miami, where the South Beach lifestyle provides a natural nexus of college athletes, overzealous boosters, professional athletes and agents. Shapiro was a star of that world, practically out in the open, and nobody in charge at Miami lifted a finger to stop him.

It hardly matters that Shapiro “didn’t do anything to cause concern,” as Dee claims, because the only way that’s true is if Miami did nothing to look.

Remember, this isn’t about the players. They only took what was offered. This is about the adults who took Shapiro’s money — Ponzi scheme money, as it turned out — put his name on a lounge in the athletic department and looked the other way as long as the checks kept coming. The access he purchased came without suspicion that his enthusiasm for the program might have crossed the line.

According to Yahoo!, even when the school’s associate athletic director for compliance learned about Shapiro’s ties to players and co-ownership of a sports agency in 2008, it wasn’t until the Ponzi scheme charges surfaced in 2010 that he was even questioned by Miami officials. From an NCAA standpoint, that might be the most damaging part of the report.

“I know with absolute certainty that we controlled the things we could control,” Dee told the Palm Beach Post.

That didn’t save USC or Memphis, and perhaps those schools deserved the penalties Dee’s committee gave them. The illegal benefits Bush received while at USC were massive. Memphis may not have known about Rose, but there was a price to pay for letting John Calipari run roughshod over its athletic department, and maybe that was it.

Now it’s Dee’s program under the microscope, and it’s his claims of ignorance that must now fall on deaf ears. For all those years, all those cases, Dee showed the way. Now that we know what was going on right under his nose, that same hammer of justice should swing harder than ever.

Tagged: Memphis

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