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
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