KANSAS CITY, Mo. – This has to be the zone-buster that Missouri coach Frank Haith was hoping for.
In a stunning development Wednesday, the NCAA issued a statement admitting it may have uncovered improper conduct within its own enforcement program that occurred during the investigation of Haith while he was at Miami.
As a result, the NCAA indicated it “will not move forward with a Notice of Allegations (against Haith) until all the facts surrounding this issue are known.”
That, of course, could take weeks. It could also mean that the NCAA might eventually drop all potential charges against Haith for fear those charges would get overturned on appeal in light of the NCAA’s admission of improper conduct.
CBSSports.com, citing an anonymous source, reported on Tuesday that Haith was expected to receive a letter of allegations from the NCAA as soon as this week, and that he was expected to be charged with unethical conduct and failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance.
Those charges could result in a multiyear show-cause penalty.
But the NCAA’s admission on Wednesday might make it measurably difficult for any potential charges against Haith to stick, in essence creating an NCAA “mistrial.”
The most damning portion of the NCAA’s admission was that former NCAA enforcement staffers paid, without authorization, the defense attorney for disgraced Miami booster Nevin Shapiro to improperly obtain information through bankruptcy proceedings. That detail was discovered when a bill suddenly showed up before NCAA accountants, who began asking questions.
The irony here likely won’t be lost on Haith or his attorney, Michael L. Buckner.
After all, Haith’s alleged violation was that someone on his staff at Miami repaid the $10,000 to Shaprio that Shapiro reportedly paid a family member of former player DeQuan Jones. CBSSports.com reported that the NCAA wasn’t able to prove that allegation, but that it simply didn’t believe Haith’s account of his innocence.
Yet now the NCAA’s own enforcement program must answer to chargers it improperly paid Shapiro’s attorney.
Even if the NCAA now goes ahead with a letter of allegations against Haith and attempts to impose sanctions, Buckner’s appeal likely would be a layup.
The appeals committee includes a Detroit attorney, a vice president of legal affairs and two law professors, all of whom aren’t likely to be amused by the NCAA enforcement’s program’s disregard for procedure.
Aside from that, in the court of public opinion, the NCAA would look foolish trying to accuse Haith of improper payments when it is found guilty of its own improper payments in the very same investigation.
Plus, there’s more.
Since the NCAA has no legal jurisdiction, its enforcement program also had no authority to obtain information from the bankruptcy proceeding, since that proceeding had no direct ties to the NCAA.
From the NCAA’s release: “As it does not have subpoena power, the NCAA does not have the authority to compel testimony through procedures outside of its enforcement program. Through bankruptcy proceedings, enforcement staff gained information for the investigation that would not have been accessible otherwise.”
In other words, strike that testimony from the record, your honor. Inadmissible evidence.
Step down, next witness.
The truth is, it’s admirable that the NCAA issued its statement Wednesday, admitting it can self-police its own police.
“I have been vocal in the past regarding the need for integrity by NCAA member schools, athletics administrators, coaches and student-athletes,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said. “That same commitment to integrity applies to all of us in the NCAA national office.”
Now, the NCAA must go all-in at the admirable table. It might as well just dismiss the part of the Miami investigation that involves Haith since it reportedly had no concrete evidence against him in the first place. Whatever factual leads it did uncover are now tainted by its improper methods.
“To say the least, I am angered and saddened by this situation,” Emmert said. “Trust and credibility are essential to our regulatory tasks.”