Shalala: Scandal ‘has been quite painful for me’

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CORAL GABLES, FLA. (AP) - Miami President Donna Shalala said it’s been “quite painful” dealing with the scandal that could blacken the name of the university’s athletic department for years to come.

The NCAA and the school are investigating whether the athletic department, including 15 current student-athletes, broke rules in their dealings with convicted Ponzi scheme architect and former booster Nevin Shapiro. A person with knowledge of the process told The Associated Press last week that eight football players have been declared ineligible, though the school remains hopeful they will soon be reinstated by the NCAA.

“These past two weeks have been quite painful for me,” Shalala wrote in a letter published in Sunday’s editions of The Miami Herald. “It is way too early to know all of the details … but the allegations alone cause serious concerns.”

She added: “Here’s my commitment: I will do, and we will do, everything possible to find the truth, learn from any mistakes and take measures to prevent any such behavior from happening again.”

While the university first became aware of some of Shapiro’s allegations about a year ago, the story broke widely Aug. 16 when Yahoo Sports published more claims from Shapiro. Now imprisoned, he said he provided extra benefits _ mainly cash, cars, gifts and sexual hookups _ for 72 football players, some while they were being recruited. Of that number, 65 are former or current Miami players, while seven signed with other schools.

He also implicated 10 coaches, none of whom are still at the school, and one current men’s basketball player.

Shapiro, 42, is serving a 20-year prison sentence for masterminding what federal prosecutors called a $930 million investment scam.

Football coach Al Golden said the school asked the NCAA to begin a reinstatement process. Miami opens its season at Maryland on Sept. 5.

Shalala said athletic director Shawn Eichorst is reviewing Miami’s policies and procedures relating to compliance, and that rules changes were possible.

“If we do all this right _ and we will _ we will take the necessary actions to make sure we have the most compliant program possible,” Shalala wrote. “If we do this right _ and we will _ we will move on stronger and be better prepared for the future.”

The letter marks the third time Shalala has issued a statement about the scandal. Aside from one interview with student media at the university, she hasn’t been available for questions.

“We have committed to the NCAA every possible resource to get to the bottom of all this,” Shalala wrote. “We promised the NCAA we would not comment on any specifics until the investigation runs its course. We continue to honor that commitment.”

Many of the players implicated by Shapiro’s claims addressed the matter for the first time Saturday at the football team’s annual media day. Quarterback Jacory Harris, the marquee name among the 12 known football players involved, said he expects to be able to play in the season opener and described the scandal as “just a little bump in the road.”

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Online:

Shalala letter: http://bit.ly/oL3Zo1

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