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Editorial

For NCAA, now it's Miami's turn

After tough sanctions against USC in the Reggie Bush gifts scandal, the NCAA should take similar action if allegations against Miami's football program prove true.

August 19, 2011

Scratch a die-hard Trojans football fan, and he bleeds grievance. Ever since a scandal involving former USC running back Reggie Bush resulted in the school being handed one of the harshest penalties ever by the NCAA, boosters and team insiders have been scanning sanction decisions against other universities for signs of unfairness. That's not quite what they got Wednesday, but the allegations of severe improprieties in the University of Miami's football program are certain to fuel even more resentment of college athletics' organizing body.

The case against Miami, in the words of Florida-based sports attorney Michael Buckner, "makes the USC case look like USC was selling Girl Scout cookies." Former Miami booster Nevin Shapiro told Yahoo! Sports that between 2002 and 2010, he provided at least 72 athletes, mostly football players, with such impermissible benefits as cash, cars, jewelry, prostitute-packed parties and even an abortion for a strip-club dancer who had been impregnated by a Miami player. What rankles Trojans backers is that the case seems to demonstrate colossal hypocrisy by a key official in the ruling against USC.

The NCAA's case against USC was notable in that it seemed to set a precedent. When athletes are caught breaking NCAA rules, as former star Bush did by accepting cash from sports marketers and making a deal that allowed his family to live rent-free in a house near San Diego, it's not uncommon for university officials to claim that they were unaware of the violations and that they can't effectively monitor the hundreds of athletes in their sports programs. The NCAA said it wouldn't buy that excuse. In a 67-page report on USC, its Committee on Infractions said that universities couldn't "hide their heads in the sand" by devoting the same amount of attention to every athlete — instead, they should make a strong effort to focus on star players such as Bush, the ones most likely to attract improper gifts.

Making that case publicly was Paul Dee, then the committee's chairman, who has since retired. "High-profile players demand high-profile compliance," he said last year, when the sanctions against USC (a two-year suspension from bowl games and the stripping of 30 scholarships) were announced. And yet evidence from Shapiro and other witnesses suggests that dozens of high-profile athletes at Miami were being feted right under the nose of Dee, who was the school's athletic director from 1993 to 2008.

Does that delegitimize the sanctions decision against USC, or suggest that it's unrealistic to expect universities to properly oversee star players? No. But the onus is now on the NCAA to examine Miami under the same criteria it established in the USC case: "We didn't know" won't cut it.

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