Someone wrote in to ask why, being such a moralist (his word not mine), I haven’t posted anything about the looming UM football scandal set off by voluminous and it seems detailed allegations from convicted and jailed Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro.
There are, I suppose, three reasons why I don’t have anything to say about it now, and may not have much to say about it later either:
First, I don’t actually know much about how the NCAA works, so I have no reason to think I have any value to add to the current conversation. For what little it is worth, when it comes to big-time college football I’m in the ‘pay the gladiators’ camp. Ever since we got a projector, I’ve enjoyed watching UM play. But despite that, the whole college football system seems to me to be an exploitation of young people by universities. But that’s hardly an original view. UM claims, and apparently actually achieves, one of the highest graduation rates in big-time college football. Even so, I’d wager football players graduate at a much lower rate than the college average, and that too many of them take weak majors. Meanwhile the coaches and the people behind the college bowl system are making much more than professors and taking junkets. (Of course, coaches don’t have tenure, which partly offsets their higher salaries.)
Second, in general, as regards criminal allegations or the like, I like to give most people a presumption of innocence. (I sometimes do apply a different standard to politicians and to writing about politicians. Who we vote for can’t be held to the standards of courtroom evidence, because you often don’t get that kind of fact finding in time for the election. Also, there can be a case for posting even unoriginal things about politics as repetition helps swing elections.)
This story looks pretty bad, and often where there is smoke there is fire. But what do I know? And sometimes there isn’t a fire. Consider for example the fun so many people had about UM President Donna Shalala being pictured grinning at a check presented to her at a local bowling alley/club. That story has a whole different look to it after you read the account in today’s Herald, in which it seems the check was a complete surprise to her and by no means the point of the event. (See Bowling center owner defends UM president Donna Shalala.) Former head Coach Randy Shannon apparently tried to keep the guy at arm’s length, which doesn’t suggest there was recent institutional involvement, at least at the coaching level. Jumping to the top, UM President Donna Shalala has, I think, been a very effective leader for the University, and I would be very surprised to hear that she was either knowingly complicit or even, given her hands-on style, negligent. Recall that one of the main jobs of a college President is to raise money. And given that the City of Miami is built on new money, and well supplied with slightly louche or fairly zany millionaires, expecting a university that ran a $1 billion capital campaign in an effort to become a major research center to turn up its nose at their money is just silly. If a guy like Nevin Shapiro can con hundreds and hundreds of millions from investors, and present all the local indicia of wealth, can one reasonably expect a university to see through him any better than the investors did? There is, after all, a difference between being tricked and being culpable.
Similarly, is it obvious that even if the college kids were partying like crazy on this guy’s yacht that the university higher-ups necessarily knew or even should have known? I honestly have no idea. I don’t know enough about how tightly controlled the players’ lives are. Miami is a big city. I assume players – college students after all – are not watched 24/7. But like I said before, what do I know? It seems telling that few if any of the players rumored to be in trouble have spoken to the media on the record. But then again, they might just have a smart lawyer whose first reaction surely would be to tell them not to talk to the press. (And now I see that the one player quoted by name is recanting: Ex-UM RB Moss recants, says he never took Shapiro’s money. But Yahoo! Sports says they have him on tape admitting it.)
Third, I have a conference paper due in a couple of weeks…
So, really, I’ve got nothing to say about this one. Not for now anyway.
I wish the people who are supposed to “know much about how the NCAA works” could have as reasonable and thoughtful of an opinion.