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NCAA Scandal Puts Cloud Over Miami

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Palm Beach Post (Florida)

 

The Miami Hurricanes basketball team opened fall practice Friday and they practiced hard, but there is no making this perfect.

That's because the program is a target in the nationwide FBI investigation of payments to players, and apparently it has been a target for some time.

Even if no charges are ever filed against anyone in the UM athletic department, this is bad news for coach Jim Larranaga.

It makes people wonder. What in the name of Nevin Shapiro is going on?

Now to be clear, and more important to be fair, Larranaga and his staff had no part in the sins of Shapiro, who in 2011 boasted from a federal prison cell of showering Miami athletes with illegal gifts and services during the previous decade.

Frank Haith is the Hurricanes basketball coach who got wrapped up in all of that, and Coach L is the man who was brought in to restore order and to make hoops a healthy, exciting topic again.

There is a quote from that ugly period, however, that sticks with me. It comes from Haith, who got a five-game ban from the NCAA for his part in the massive Shapiro scandal and continues to work as a head coach at Tulsa today.

"Did we win enough games for the Miami supporters?" Haith said during a series of interviews with NCAA investigators. "You read the papers. I don't think they felt great about what we did there. I didn't recruit. I didn't get the five-star guys.

"Let's don't be naive about the level. Our business is corrupt."

Most people agree with that, to some extent or another. Rick Pitino, the only coach to win national titles at two schools, has come to represent the maximum extent. He lost his job at Louisville this week and is the biggest fish so far snared in the FBI allegations. The minimum extent? Well, all fans want to believe that their favorite coach and their favorite program are blameless across the wide spectrum of recruiting violations, or at least that they are smart enough not to get caught.

Somebody at Miami, it seems, has drawn enough attention to himself here to put the entire program in real danger.

UM President Julio Frenk acknowledges that an unnamed member of the Hurricanes basketball staff and a potential 2018 Miami recruit are part of the Department of Justice complaint.

It's much worse at other places like Louisville and Auburn and Arizona and Oklahoma State and USC, with federal corruption and bribery charges already announced and in some cases assistant coaches suspended and arrested.

A high-level Adidas executive has been charged, too, with much of the cheating being tied to his company and its ongoing efforts to send top athletes to schools with Adidas apparel contracts rather than Nike or Under Armour or anyone else. Some management firms and agents are involved, too.

So, for the Hurricanes, it's a matter of waiting for the other sneaker to drop.

Maybe an entire season goes by with no further action by the feds concerning Miami. Maybe the Hurricanes are better than ever, and they're certainly set up for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, with freshman Lonnie Walker, a McDonald's All-America who chose Miami over Villanova, Kentucky and Arizona, as the centerpiece. Hey, Larranaga already has six years of solid progress under his belt in Coral Gables, and the seventh really could be the charm.

Imagine, though, being on that Miami staff, wondering when you might get a call from the FBI, or a subpoena to spill whatever you know about the bribery charges, or whatever you know about an associate. For that matter, Larranaga's attorney says the head coach has no knowledge of wrongdoing or who might be involved in it, so there's a break in trust with the boss, too.

Not such a happy first day of practice for anybody here, and the ripples of anxiety keep stretching out.

Since Adidas is the company that the FBI has wiretapped and knee-capped, recruits may think twice about signing with an Adidas school, like Miami. Also, there may be recruits who are found to have received payments, which could mean a revocation of their right to play college ball by the NCAA. Yes, there's plenty more to unravel, and Miami is far from the only program sweating this out.

Larranaga has the energy of a teenager but in reality he turns 68 next week. These are the kinds of things that sap a coach's reserves. Even when they're doing right, it makes them feel wrong about the game they love.

Lastly, it's only been a year since the Miami athletic department's probation period from the Shapiro saga ended. Lack of institutional control was the overall tag back then. If somebody on Larranaga's staff is found to be guilty of passing or taking money in order to secure player commitments, the NCAA won't forget that.

dgeorge@pbpost.com Twitter: @Dave_GeorgePBP

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September 30, 2017
 
 
 

 

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