- Associated Press - Friday, August 19, 2011

CORAL GABLES, FLA. (AP) - At Miami, Friday began with two football players saying the Hurricanes were focused on the coming season and not any possible looming sanctions against a dozen teammates implicated in a scandal that prompted an NCAA investigation.

The day ended with the chairman of the board of trustees offering university president Donna Shalala a strong vote of confidence.

Leonard Abess’ letter to the university community was released late Friday night, and he says it’s “especially important that the alleged misconduct not overshadow our current leadership and institutional values.”

“Without a doubt these allegations are troubling and demand a thorough and honest evaluation of Hurricane Athletics,” Abess wrote. “President Shalala has taken a strong position, insisting on full cooperation with the ongoing NCAA investigation. The process will be long, and in the ensuing months the Board of Trustees and the university administration will provide both leadership and unwavering support for our great institution.”

Shalala released a statement earlier this week about the scandal that was prompted by convicted Ponzi scheme architect Nevin Shapiro’s claims that he provided 72 players over a nine-year span with cash, cars, prostitutes and other gifts _ all of which could bring major sanctions by the NCAA, which has spent the past five months investigating.

In an interview posted online Friday by Miami’s student newspaper, The Miami Hurricane, Shalala said she plans to remain at the school “for a long time.”

“We must not allow our current crisis in athletics to diminish the excellence and hard work of generations in the UM family,” Abess wrote.

That was also the sentiment shared by two Miami players 14 hours before Abess’ statement came out.

Center Tyler Horn and running back Mike James were the first Miami players to meet reporters since Shapiro’s claims were unveiled in a story Yahoo Sports published Tuesday.

“Well, of course, it was a shock to hear those allegations,” Horn said. “But we’re focused on football. That’s all we can focus on. That’s all we can control.”

Miami’s decision to allow Horn and James to take the first questions posed to players since the scandal broke was not entirely coincidental. Not only are they among the most expressive Hurricanes, but neither is among the current players implicated in the report.

“Life is easy regardless,” James said. “We just know we don’t pay attention to outside things. We just focus on us, and that’s about it.”

Horn and James were the only two speakers before Miami’s practice Friday morning. Coach Al Golden opted to take a day off from briefing reporters, clearly weary of discussing the scandal. Golden was not implicated in the story, since all the events Shapiro detailed to Yahoo Sports allegedly took place between 2002 and 2010. Golden was hired in December, months after Shapiro was placed into custody for masterminding a $930 million Ponzi scheme.

Larry Coker, now the coach at Texas-San Antonio, was coaching the Hurricanes when Shapiro first became a booster at Miami. Coker said Friday he was “distraught” over the situation and he was not involved in what Shapiro alleges.

“It’s really very hurtful,” Coker said. “It really is. I’ll be quite honest about that.”

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