- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tick … tick … tick … The countdown in major college sports continues, with the explosion growing closer with each passing scandal. If the latest round of alleged wrongdoing doesn’t trigger the blast, don’t worry. There’ll be another major case before too long.

But the accusations surrounding the University of Miami are nothing like other reports of recent naughtiness. Jim Tressel lying about his knowledge of Ohio State players exchanging memorabilia for tattoos? Yawn. Oregon paying Will Lyles $25,000 for “recruiting services” that allegedly included player delivery at no extra charge? Nice try. Cam Newton’s dad playing “Deal or No Deal” in shopping his son before they chose Auburn? Nice try.

Judging by the list of allegations in a recent Yahoo! Sports expose, other violators are merely Sherriff Taylor from “The Andy Griffith Show” while the Hurricanes are Crockett and Tubbs from “Miami Vice.”

According to the report, former booster Nevin Shapiro lavished players from 2002-2010 with money, cars, booze, jewelry, prostitutes and TVs, as well as trips to fancy restaurants, night spots and strip clubs, in addition to parties on his yacht and at his multimillion-dollar mansion.

Those Ohio State players must feel gypped in settling for some lousy tattoos.

The city of Miami and its nearby beach environs are notorious for excesses. The area is a veritable swingers paradise, with an abundance of nightlife and people who are exceedingly rich and exceedingly good-looking. It’s not that juicy and salacious slices of life are nonexistent in Columbus, Ohio, or Eugene, Ore., or Auburn, Ala.

They’re just not as plentiful or sensational.

The same is true for the Nevin Shapiro types found in every college town, be it urban, rural or suburban. No, not every super booster has run a $930 million Ponzi scheme and been sentenced to 20 years in prison like Shapiro. But a bunch are plying athletes with gifts and favors, ingratiating themselves among the star jocks.

More than athletes extending an open hand and coaches turning a blind eye, Shapiro and his kind are the ticking time bomb destined to bring down the NCAA. At least the organization has a measure of authority over coaches driven by the pursuit of victories and lured by the possibility of extra bennies. It brandishes the threat of ineligibility, probation, scholarship reductions and the heretofore once-in-a-lifetime ultimate - the “death penalty.”

But what power does it wield over moneyed boosters? Their egos, largesse and misguided sense of “support” aren’t beholden to the NCAA’s thick rule book. Shapiro claims that he provided 72 former and current UM players with impermissible benefits worth millions of dollars. “I did it because I could,” Shapiro told Yahoo! in a jailhouse interview. “And because nobody stepped in to stop me.”

Schools must know about illicit actions in order to address them. Shapiro claims that several coaches and equipment managers were fully aware of how he rolled. In any case, it’s hard to believe no one at Miami suspected or detected any misbehavior.

But they certainly knew of Shapiro as a donor, whose contributions to UM’s athletic department helped put his name on a student lounge (since removed), gave him passage on a team flight and allowed him to lead the Hurricanes out the tunnel. Embracing Shapiro - there’s a picture of him and UM President Donna Shalala holding a $50,000 donation - makes it difficult for Miami to claim ignorance.

However, it’s true that boosters can easily break the rules before an administration senses a whiff of trouble. The same applies for players, who can commit God-knows-what violations tonight while their coach is fast asleep.

The NCAA and its member institutions are in an untenable position, at the mercy of 18-year-old athletes and the third-party jock-sniffers that cling like barnacles. It doesn’t take long to go from a free meal here and a $100 handshake there, before there are major infractions all over the place.

The gist of Shapiro’s story comes as no surprise, though the scope is astonishing. We’ve come to expect big-time college sports programs to violate the rules, in spirit and deed, with offenders residing in the coach’s office, locker room and booster club. All while school presidents and athletic directors try to cover their eyes and cover their … behinds.

That wasn’t the case when members of Southern Methodist University’s Board of Governors and athletic department engaged in straight-up payments to select football players, which led the NCAA to issue its so-called death penalty, canceling the 1987 season.

I’m not sure if we’ll ever see another death penalty,considering how the subsequent loss of jobs and enrollment punish so many innocent people. But rest assured that the NCAA is headed for a major shake-up, in which the current set-up for big-time college sports will come tumbling down.

Tick … tick … tick …

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