It's been a long two years at the University of Miami.
The cloud of a wide-ranging NCAA investigation makes for uncertain times at best. In varying degrees, it has cost the Hurricanes money, recruits and national credibility along the way.
Hope for UM came last week in the form of the NCAA's current investigation of its own practices in the Miami case. Potential cracks in the case could change the outcome and impact that sanctions could have on the athletics department moving forward.
But the NCAA's rebuke of its own methods while investigating potential UM infractions does not necessarily mean Miami's out of the woods on the case opened in March 2011. Though NCAA compliance expert John Infante can't remember the governing body going public with a probe of its own investigative practices, it doesn't mean victory.
"Depending on the [NCAA] Committee on Infractions to make a predictable response to public pressure is a dangerous game," said Infante, author of the popular Bylaw Blog. "I'd be a little cautiously optimistic if I was a Miami fan, but there's no indication that the NCAA would acquit them or drop the case because of a technicality or something like that. And they claim it only impacted a small amount of the information in the case."
Large or small, it could still impact the penalty phase that's still months away at this point.
The NCAA deploys investigators to review allegations a school violated rules. The investigators eventually release a notice of allegations, outlining rule violations they have confirmed. A school can defend itself in writing and in person during a hearing before the NCAA Committee on Infractions. The committee reviews the information and can take a few months before handing down punishment. A school can then appeal the punishment before the case is finally settled.
Miami has already punished itself significantly as the case spanned two football seasons. The Hurricanes were bowl eligible both times and twice they turned down the opportunity to play on. Last year, that meant forgoing the school's first trip to the ACC Championship Game and a shot at a return to the Orange Bowl.
Coach Al Golden said he's already factoring scholarship losses into his recruiting strategies.
But all things considered, Miami's withstood the heat fairly well. This all began in the first few months of Golden's regime. Despite the heavy doses of negative recruiting done by rival schools, Golden managed a 2012 signing class of 33 that was ranked in the top 10 nationally.
"As soon as this clears up, the recruiting should be great," said CBS recruiting analyst Tom Lemming. "Miami will be back to being a powerhouse, I think. Golden is a younger version of Nick Saban and Urban Meyer, and he's recruited very, very well considering this is swirling around."
The case began in March 2011 and centered largely on claims made by former Miami booster Nevin Shapiro. Now serving a 20-year prison sentence for involvement in a $930 million Ponzi scheme, Shapiro says he worked with former Miami coaches and staff members to commit numerous NCAA recruiting and extra benefit violations from 2002-10.
More than 100 mostly former UM student athletes and recruits were allegedly involved. The sheer volume of involved parties, potential witnesses and evidence makes this one of the longest-running NCAA investigations in memory. Miami has yet to receive a notice of allegations. The NCAA's probe of its own enforcement office, which is entering its sixth day and is expected to span two weeks, must be completed first.
However, it's not the longest investigation in NCAA history. It took more than three years from the beginning of the investigation until Southern California received its notice of allegations in 2009 involving the Reggie Bush extra benefits.
The Trojans were hit with a two-year postseason ban and significant scholarship losses. None of that tempered expectations this past August. USC topped the Associated Press preseason poll before a disappointing 7-6 season ended in a Sun Bowl loss.
The Trojan recruiting didn't drop off too far either. It's all a matter of resolving the case, receiving sanctions and then moving on.
"Even Penn State's having a decent year, and they have a four-year bowl ban and reduced scholarships," Lemming said. "They're doing OK because everyone knows what they have to work with. Miami is the only one out there that doesn't know what they have to work with. That's the only hang up."
Given the latest developments, there's more optimism coming from the Miami fan base. It appears at least a small portion of the evidence gathered improperly against Miami will be thrown out.
"Anything you can knock out of the case is going to be good because part of what makes the case so bad is the volume -- the amount of money and the number of athletes involved," Infante said. "So the more people you can get rid of, the better the case is going to look. But does this eliminate a significant enough effect on the penalty? If you're saying 'there's no way they can punish us after this,' well the NCAA, the relationship of the decisions they make to the PR response is not that cut and dry."
A new member of the Committee on Infractions made some interesting comments this week, however. Former Georgia Tech basketball coach Bobby Cremins, appointed just this week, told a SiriusXM radio audience that the NCAA should be "skeptical" using Shapiro as a witness.
Cremins, along with former Michigan football coach Lloyd Carr, were among the eight new additions to the 18-member COI. This is the body that'll ultimately decide how guilty Miami is and the sanctions they'll face.
Whether the two postseason bans are punishment enough remains to be seen. Those self-imposed limitations meant losing at least some money. Miami will still receive its share of the 2012 ACC bowl revenue just as it did in 2011. The league also gives a travel allowance of $1.1 million for bowl games -- $1.7 million for one of the BCS games. There certainly would have been leftovers if the Hurricanes would have played at home in this year's Orange Bowl.
The vast majority of the alleged violations involved the football team, but Miami's surging basketball program was also implicated. Current players Reggie Johnson and Durand Scott both served suspensions relating to the matter.
There has not been any discussion of self-imposed postseason bans, and the Hurricanes participated in last year's NIT tournament. Scott's suspension didn't come until the end of last season, and his absence in the ACC Tournament could've factored into missing the NCAA tournament.
Any alleged wrongdoing was committed before coach Jim Larranaga arrived. He's not concerning himself with the case as the program is in the midst of a breakout season.
Larranaga's approach mirrors most in Coral Gables these days. It's a wait and see approach for most at this point.
"I don't pay one bit of attention," he said Friday. "I am informed as what's being said in the newspaper, but my staff and I stay completely focused on the team."
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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