Back away from the Miami case, take the 30,000 foot view of it, and in a way it wraps up pretty neatly. Miami was accused of very significant violations. The NCAA proved many of them, but misconduct by the investigators prevented the case from expanding any further and may have limited which accusations the NCAA was able to corroborate. Along the way Miami self-imposed significant penalties, two postseason bans. After dragging on for three or four years depending on how you look at it, Miami and even some of the coaches involved got off very lightly, possibly because of the misconduct and lengthy investigation.
Dig into the [public report][miami report] of the Committee on Infractions and there is virtually no explanation of how we got from January 23, 2013 (the NCAA reveals the misconduct in the investigation) to October 22, 2013 (the NCAA announces the decision in the case). In theory, as the finder of fact it is not the Committee on Infraction’s job to explain this. Their job is to weigh the evidence presented, determine what is credible and what is not, then render a decision on violations and punishments based on that evidence. They should not be concerning themselves with evidence that is not in the case record for any reason, especially due to the misconduct of investigators.
But the COI opens itself up to being more than a fact-finder in two ways as it goes through the case timeline:
- The committee comments on the length of the investigation and states that investigations should be completed in a timely manner.
- The committee notes that it created a procedural structure to resolve evidentiary issues, dealt with them, and heard the case on the merits despite almost all involved parties asking for allegations to be dismissed.
By doing so, the Committee on Infractions has put itself in position to judge the length and quality of the investigation as well as Miami’s conduct and attitude during it. Having put itself in that spot, the COI fails to deliver:
- At no point does the COI give an opinion as to whether this investigation was completed in a timely manner, i.e. whether it took so long that Miami was prejudiced by the length of the investigation.
- The COI does not detail the result of its procedural process and how evidentiary issues or requests to dismiss the case were resolved.
Even more confusing is how Miami’s tone changed from February to today. Here is Miami president Donna Shalala’s reaction to the Notice of Allegations:
Many of the allegations included in the Notice of Allegations remain unsubstantiated.
Many of the charges brought forth are based on the word of a man who made a fortune by lying. The NCAA enforcement staff acknowledged to the University that if Nevin Shapiro, a convicted con man, said something more than once, it considered the allegation “corroborated”—an argument which is both ludicrous and counter to legal practice.
Finally, we believe the NCAA was responsible for damaging leaks of unsubstantiated allegations over the course of the investigation.
As recently as March 29, Miami was still trying to have the case dismissed, raising a number of procedural issues, claiming unsubstantiated violations were still in the Notice of Allegations, and that Miami was being held to a higher standard than the NCAA national office.
This is Miami at the hearing on every violation except for the charge of lack of institutional control:
The enforcement staff and the institution substantially agreed to the facts and that those facts constitute violations of NCAA bylaws.
Today Miami’s reversal is complete, announcing that it will not appeal.
In summary, nine months ago the NCAA announced that an already long investigation had been compromised and would be further delayed. Eight months ago the NCAA announced the issues had been fixed and a clean Notice of Allegations was sent to Miami, a claim to which Miami’s president vigorously objected. Seven months ago, Miami was still contending that case was so flawed the whole thing should be dismissed.
Over a period of three months, the Committee on Infractions addressed Miami’s complaints but appears to have given the school little of what it wanted. Four months ago, after the conclusion of that process which was ultimately unsuccessful for Miami, the institution agreed with all the violations. And today, Miami has announced it will not appeal the decision.
None of this makes any sense. The public report does not explain how to reconcile the misconduct in the investigation, the length of the case, and the fact that the Notice of Allegations appears (although it is hard to say since it was never publicly released) to have stayed mostly intact with Miami’s initial objections followed by the institution’s ultimate agreement to stop fighting the NCAA.
The Miami case was already an extraordinary event in NCAA history. While the NCAA got a great deal of egg on its face, there were some positives. The misconduct forced the NCAA to peel back the curtain a bit on how investigations are done, and motivated the member institutions to push for reform in NCAA enforcement. Heading into a new era for the Committee on Infractions, this COI could have set the bar for transparency and starting building a reputation as a fair court that is capable of both punishing NCAA members, staff, and student-athletes while also protecting them from overreach.
The lack of explanation in this case means that opportunity was not taken. Instead, the NCAA has left itself open to speculation about why Miami changed its tune so sharply and how it dealt with the enforcement staff misconduct. Rather than clarifying the infractions process, the Miami case leaves it as muddy as ever for the new COI to clean up.