Finally, there is closure in Coral Gables.
It's been 798 days since Yahoo! Sports broke the story regarding the Nevin Shapiro/Miami Hurricanes scandal. Fast forward to today; two years, two months and six days later and it's finally over.
This morning the NCAA announced their findings and sanctions for the University of Miami stemming from their lengthy investigation into the Hurricanes athletic department, specifically the football and basketball programs. The biggest sanction is the loss of a combined total of nine scholarships over the next three years for football.
Any time you lose scholarships it hurts. Certainly, this is a blow for the ‘Canes. But it's manageable. For all intensive purposes and considering their transgressions, Miami got a slap on the wrist.
Again, it's very manageable for coach Al Golden. If anything this should only strengthen the Miami recruiting cause. For two-plus years they have been battling multiple fronts, specifically the NCAA and their rivals on the field in getting players off the field. The black cloud of the NCAA has been hanging over their head like an impending category five hurricane barreling down on South Florida. Just last season alone Miami lost key recruits like running back Alex Collins (Arkansas) and linebacker Matthew Thomas (FSU), citing the NCAA investigation and the uncertainty with the Miami football program.
"Sometimes the threat of the unknown is more severe than the penalties themselves. Teams have been negative recruiting Miami for nearly three years on what could possibly happen to the Miami program, and now that won't be viable," said Scott Kennedy, director of scouting for scout.com. "Miami has already taken the brunt of their penalties as time served with the self imposed bowl ban, so today's news is almost like coming off of probation entirely. Losing three scholarships off of the initial 25 is really not losing any scholarships at all. It will only prevent Miami from oversigning by a smaller amount. Hurricane fans can celebrate how their administration handled this alleged infractions, because the worst is behind them."
It's been a very difficult road for Golden and his regime. He took over a broken Miami program in December of 2012, calling it a ‘dream job' and emphasizing the incredible ‘brand' that is Hurricane football.
Then, on Aug. 16, 2011, a mere two weeks before Golden led the ‘Canes on the field for the first time, the Yahoo! Sports story broke. This stunning investigation and what was revealed rocked the college football world.
Suddenly, Golden and his Miami program were fighting for their survival. To his credit, Golden brilliantly navigated his way through this storm. This entire program was in limbo and held hostage by the lengthy NCAA investigation.
Yet, Golden was still able to recruit at a high level, win football games, and set the Hurricanes up for a bright future.
That's not always easy to do.
Case in point – %%MATCH_9%%.
The Trojans were severely penalized in 2010 by the NCAA after the Reggie Bush scandal. They lost 30 scholarships over three years, as well as a two year bowl ban in 2010 and 11.
There's no question that then Southern Cal head coach Lane Kiffin and his staff recruited exceptional well, especially considering the circumstances. But it's so difficult to overcome scholarship losses and that's exactly why we are seeing this program suffer right now.
So in essence, USC and Miami suffered the same Bowl fate. For the Trojans, the NCAA took away two Bowl games. For the Hurricanes, that was self-imposed. In terms of the scholarship reductions, the big difference between these two proud football programs will be an astounding seven per year for three years.
But that didn't deter running back %%MATCH_16%% (Miami Norland) or cornerback %%MATCH_15%% (Miramar, Fla.). Johnson was the first member of his recruiting class. He remained 100% firmly committed to the Hurricanes throughout his entire process. Howard was widely considered the top prospect at his position on the country. Like Johnson, he could have played anywhere. But he decided to play for Miami.
These are just two examples from a very good Hurricane class in 2012. It was another good group last season, led by wide receiver %%MATCH_17%% (Oakland Park, Fla./Northeast), quarterback %%MATCH_19%% (Wayne, N.J./Wayne Hills) an defensive end %%MATCH_10%% (Ramsey, N.J./Don Bosco Prep).
Miami is sporting a top 10 class with their 2014 edition. In fact, they currently stand No. 5 overall and No. 2 in the ACC, just behind Florida State. The Hurricanes have committed arguably the top offensive line class in the country, led by the state's top two offensive tackles in %%MATCH_13%% (Wellington, Fla./Palm Beach Central) and %%MATCH_11%% (Miami Central) and Florida's top center %%MATCH_12%% (Ft. Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas).
Miami has committed big time players at virtually every position. You can make a strong case that %%MATCH_14%% (Miami Central) is the top running back in the state. This five-star prospect is headed to Coral Gables. So is Chad Thomas (Miami Booker T. %%MATCH_21%%), who's the state's top defensive end and Travante Valentine (Hialeah, Fla./Champagnat Catholic). Valentine is an elite defensive tackle. The key moving forward, at least with this group, will be keeping west coast quarterback %%MATCH_20%% (West Hills, Calif./Chaminade College Prep) committed. %%MATCH_23%% and USC just recently offered him a scholarship but he could prove to stay loyal to Miami.
What does today's sanctions and the finality it brings to the investigation do for players committed elsewhere in this class? A lot of eyes will be on %%MATCH_18%% (Plantation American Heritage). The nation's No. 2 running back grew up dreaming to play for the Hurricanes but he has committed to %%MATCH_22%%. Does he now re-think Miami? Certainly what happened today will impact recruits in this class and the next.
Miami currently has 74 players on scholarship with 19 graduating. Their true ceiling roster number moving forward over the next three years is now 82, not 85. Miami graduates 19 players. There will be attrition because there always is. So theoretically Miami could sign at least 25 but that number will likely be closer to 30 with their 2014 class.
"I think this is a win for Miami and the football program," said Chad Simmons, national recruiting analyst for Scout.com. "Al Golden has been through a lot since he took over as head coach but he has pulled through and gotten this program back into the top 10. He can deal with the loss of nine scholarships over the next three years, and to have this behind him completely now, he has to feel good about the future. There is only positive feedback from the Miami recruits and they are the future of the program. It has been a good day, better than many may have expected for the Hurricanes."
It's stunning that the NCAA took this long to come to their conclusions. Then again, this is the NCAA we are talking about. This is the same organization that tainted its very own investigation due to an ‘unethicial investigatory process'. They, in fact, had to drop 20 percent or so of the "tainted" Miami information, from their investigation. So it could have been worse.
The football program penalties include:
• Reduction of football scholarships by a combined total of nine during the 2014-15, 2015-16, and 2016-17 seasons. • Miami may only provide a prospect on unofficial visits complementary tickets from one home game during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons.
On the surface, losing nine scholarships is much less than what many thought would happen to the program regarding sanctions. But the University of Miami self-imposed some pretty stiff penalties:
• Two-year postseason ban following the 2011 and 2012 seasons. That also included the 2012 ACC Championship Game. • Reduction of official visits for the 2012-13 calendar year by 20% (36 official visits). • Reduction of fall evaluation days in the 2012-13 by six (from 42-36). • Reduction of available contact days during the 2012-13 contact period by 20%.
Also included in their findings was some significant language from the NCAA in their University of Miami Infractions Report. This case involved numerous, serious violations of NCAA bylaws, many of which were not disputed. It involved 18 allegations with 79 subparts and 118 interviews of 81 individuals. The written record included 15 binders of documents, totaling thousands of pages. They found major infractions in both football and men's basketball with a common link that was Shapiro. The NCAA also found violations in regards to telephone and text messaging in nearly all sports programs. This also included an admission on the part of the University that it failed to monitor its programs. Lastly, the NCAA cited a lack of institutional and organizational control of its athletics program.
School President Donna Shalala issued the following statement earlier today –
"The Committee on Infractions report closes a challenging chapter in the history of the University of Miami.
"I am grateful to our coaches, staff and student-athletes for their dedication to the University and to intercollegiate athletics. I also want to thank Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford for his steadfast support.
"Finally, I want to apologize to the Hurricane family, as we have asked for your patience, faith and support during a difficult time. Thank you for standing with us."
The big winner in all of this is Golden, his team and program. Yeah, Miami took some self-inflicted hits and may have cost itself an ACC title. But in the grand scheme that looks like a small price to pay for potentially more scholarship losses, which could have severely crippled the program. See USC.
Golden provided the program the leadership it needed during some very dark days. He could have easily cut and run. Instead, Golden stayed and led.
The investigation is over. The black cloud is gone.
There's finally closure for the University of Miami.