CORAL GABLES — After nearly two years, the NCAA has announced some of the wrongdoing discovered during its investigation of Miami's athletic compliance practices.
The alleged rule-breakers: former NCAA employees.
The NCAA, facing increasingly fierce scrutiny regarding its role as the administrator of college athletics, said Wednesday that its enforcement staff improperly obtained information in its high-profile investigation involving Miami. NCAA president Mark Emmert said the UM investigation is on hold after the NCAA discovered "a very severe issue of improper conduct" — specifically that its investigators contracted with a criminal defense lawyer for the booster at the center of the Miami case to obtain information they should not have been able to access. The NCAA had been examining allegations that the booster, Nevin Shapiro, gave hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, as well as other benefits, to dozens of Miami athletes.
The NCAA does not have subpoena power. At least one of the people deposed by attorney Maria Elena Perez, who couldn't be reached Wednesday, as part of Shapiro's bankruptcy case appeared under subpoena, and his testimony would not have been otherwise available to NCAA investigators. The investigators who were involved are no longer with the NCAA, Emmert said, adding: "How in the world can you get this far without it being recognized that this was an inappropriate way to proceed?"
Emmert called the conduct of the investigators "shocking" and "stunning," saying the NCAA could not tolerate such "grossly inappropriate" behavior.
Miami already has self-imposed the suspensions of eight involved football players, withdrawn from two bowl games and an ACC title game, and voluntarily reduced scholarships.
Notice of allegations — the charges that Miami will have to defend itself against during the sanctioning phase of the probe — are now on hold until an outside review of the NCAA's procedures in this case are completed.
The question isn't whether it's good news toward a softening of Miami's impending judgment from the NCAA. It's how good the news is.
Emmert said any talk of throwing out all charges is "premature." He said only a "small portion" of the investigation was affected. But does a tainted portion call into question other evidence?
"As we have done since the beginning, we will continue to work with the NCAA and now with their outside investigator hoping for a swift resolution," UM president Donna Shalala said.
Emmert said the NCAA was trying to find out why part of the investigation was based on depositions specific to the bankruptcy case. One of those depositions was given Dec. 19, 2011 by former UM equipment-room staffer Sean Allen, who has been linked to Shapiro and many of the allegations he made against the university.
During that deposition, the phrase "University of Miami" was uttered at least 58 times in questions or answers. UM was not part of the Ponzi scheme that led to Shapiro's legal downfall.
Kenneth L. Wainstein of the firm Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP was hired to conduct the external review of what happened. That review will begin today, with the NCAA hoping it will finish within two weeks.
The admission comes at a challenging time for the NCAA. This month, Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania sued the organization over its handling of the Penn State child sexual abuse case, saying that it was "overreaching and unlawful" in how it punished the university and that it violated antitrust laws. The NCAA has also been criticized for recent cases involving UCLA, USC and North Carolina.
"Isn't NCAA making head coaches responsible for assistants' actions?" ESPN college analyst Jay Bilas tweeted. "Uh, Mr. Emmert, about this happening on your watch … "