Feel-good ‘Canes hardly school’s only news

CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Perhaps it’s good for the University of Miami that Indiana didn’t lose Tuesday night and the Hurricanes didn’t become in line to be the No. 1 basketball team in the country.
 
It would have been overshadowed by something else related to Indiana. After all, the NCAA headquarters are in Indianapolis.
 
Midway through the second half of the second-ranked Hurricanes’ 54-50 win over Virginia at BankUnited Center, members of the media were handed a statement in which Miami president Donna Shalala blasted the NCAA for its handling of the 2 1/2-year-old case against the school. That became the big news Tuesday about the University of Miami.
 
To say the investigation of the school is souring this feel-good and once-in-a-lifetime story the Hurricanes are putting together would be an overstatement. But it doesn’t help for a school that sure wishes what’s going on in hoops was the only national news these days coming out of Coral Gables.
 
The NCAA sent Miami on Tuesday its notice of allegations, one that accuses the school of a “lack of institutional control” related to its dealings with rogue booster Nevin Shapiro. One could say the NCAA’s timing wasn’t exceptional considering the Hurricanes basketball team had a chance to make really big news had Tuesday also included top-ranked Indiana losing at Michigan State.
 
Then again, this isn’t a football-only investigation. The Hurricanes’ basketball program is also involved. So it’s not like NCAA officials have any desire to make sure good hoops news isn’t overshadowed.
 
The Associated Press reported that named in the report are several former members of Miami coaching staffs, including Frank Haith, who was the Hurricanes’ basketball coach before Jim Larranaga arrived in 2011. Haith is now at Missouri, which upset No. 5 Florida 63-60 Tuesday night.
 
One wonders if Haith felt his day was overshadowed by bad news. Larranaga certainly didn’t feel his was.
 
“My guess is if it were overshadowing what we were doing this room would not be packed to the ceiling (with media),” Larranaga said after Tuesday’s game, which tipped off shortly before the Hoosiers came back from four points down late in the game to beat the Spartans 72-68. “We’re getting all the exposure. Have you been following that? We’re getting so much exposure, the guys are doing tons of interviews… We can only focus on the things that we have control over… We have nothing to do with the investigation. We have a very able-bodied administration. They take care of that.”
 
There are some similarities between Larranaga’s players and Miami’s administration. They both play very aggressive defense.
 
The Hurricanes on Tuesday held Virginia to 38.5 percent shooting. And Shalala has gone on the defensive as much as anybody involved with an NCAA investigation this side of Jerry Tarkanian.
 
Shalala on Monday had in a statement called the NCAA’s conduct “unprofessional and unethical” and that the “process must come to a swift resolution” due to the NCAA having admitted it handled part of the case improperly. The NCAA has acknowledged enforcement staff members knowingly were improper in hiring a Shapiro attorney for work.
 
Shapiro is the rogue booster serving a 20-year prison sentence for operating a Ponzi scheme. Shapiro had told Yahoo! Sports in 2011 he had provided numerous improper benefits to mostly football players and recruits but also to some men’s basketball players.
 
“Many of the charges brought forth are based on the word of a man who made a fortune by lying,” Shalala wrote in Tuesday’s scathing statement about the NCAA. “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,’ an argument which is both ludicrous and counter to legal practice.”
 
There was plenty more. Shalala wrote that “most of the sensationalized media accounts of Shapiro’s claims are found nowhere in the Notice of Allegations” She wrote that the “NCAA enforcement staff could not find evidence of prostitution, expensive cars for players, expensive dinners paid for by boosters, player bounty payments, rampant alcohol and drug use or the alleged hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and gifts given to student-athletes as reported in the media. The fabricated story played well. The facts did not.”
 
Shalala leveled other charges about Miami’s belief that the NCAA really has botched the investigation. Shalala, who did write that the “University of Miami deeply regrets and takes full responsibility for those NCAA violations that are based on fact.” But she believes Miami self-imposing a football bowl ban for the 2011 and 2012 seasons, pulling out of the ACC Championship Game in 2012 and withholding some student-athletes from competition has been sufficient enough.
 
Shalala has seen an opening due to the NCAA’s admitted mistakes. She’s hoping to take advantage of it, no doubt part of it being trying to court public opinion.
 
So will it be a charge or block? Well, considering the NCAA officiates its own cases, whatever ends up happening might not be the best news for the school.
 
Meanwhile, back to the Miami good news on Tuesday that was pushed off the front page. The Hurricanes broke a 50-50 tie when center Reggie Johnson made a layup with 5.7 seconds left in the game after taking a perfect pass from point guard Shane Larkin.
 
The Cavaliers had a final chance to force overtime or win. But Miami guard Durand Scott stole the ensuing inbound pass and hit two foul shots with 4.1 seconds left to seal the win and raise Miami’s record to 22-3 and 13-0 in the ACC.
 
After the game, Larkin downplayed that the Hurricanes are thinking about possibly ascending to No. 1, saying, “Our focus is on us.” Then again, he didn’t deny that “you see it on the Internet” and “see it on TV.” And it was known by the players in the first half Tuesday what the Hoosiers had done.
 
“Somebody pointed it out to me on the bench,” Larkin said. “It was on the big screen. Somebody pointed out they won by four. So it was like, ‘OK. Let’s go handle business.”‘
 
That business is wanting to make it to the NCAA title game April 8. Considering Miami has 90 days to respond to the NCAA’s letter and figures to use most of that time, at least there’s no chance of the Hurricanes winning a championship and learning of NCAA sanctions on the same day.
 
Chris Tomasson can be reached at christomasson@hotmail.com or on Twitter @christomasson