You would think Senator Joe Abruzzo (D-Wellington) had more pressing matters. But this week he asked Attorney General Pam Bondi to investigate the NCAA. For those living under a rock since the summer of 2011, the University of Miami’s Athletics program has been probed by the NCAA for potential rules violations. I went to the University of Florida so it could be assumed by those who do not know me that I have no dog in this fight. Those who do know me realize that at one time I was a big UM football fan (I don’t really follow American football of the College variety any longer and I haven’t watched a single NFL game including the Super Bowl in years), and to this day remain an obsessive University of Miami Basketball fan. A quick window into my obsession with UM Basketball: this very weekend in 1999 when preparing for Legislative Session in Tallahassee, I drove to southeast Florida for the final regular Big East season game vs. Rutgers just to see the great Tim James jersey retired and then drove right back. I’ve followed UM Basketball closely for years I admit partly to spite football fans. While College Football is an obsessive cultural phenomenon in Florida, College Basketball is largely ignored or even seen as an annoyance by some fans. I quite frankly like the sport better and enjoyed being different. I am also of course a big UF Basketball fan and cherish both national titles won by the Gators in recent years.
Anyway, I digress. Back to the issue itself, the NCAA Investigation of UM and whether the state should be probing the NCAA. As someone who works in sports (I am the Communications Director for a Professional Soccer league) I understand how governing bodies work. In soccer (football to the rest of the world) we have FIFA, which operates as a transnational entity which often attempts to supersede national laws and has codified rules stating disputes cannot be resolved in the court system. FIFA is in many parts of the world more powerful than the actual Government.
The NCAA has begun to remind me of FIFA in recent years. It started with the USC investigation, continued with the Ohio State investigation, the Penn State debacle and finally the UM situation. The NCAA operates with a reckless determination to act as an enforcement agency while continuing to ignore some of the most fundamental issues with collegiate athletics. They need to regulated by Congress more strenuously because unlike FIFA, they operate within the borders of one nation and given the role they have in Higher Education, it is critical they be held accountable.
What Pam Bondi can do about the NCAA I have no idea. This should be a Congressional matter for the respective Judiciary Committees in each chamber.
It cannot be questioned that Miami broke numerous rules and gained a benefit from breaking rules. Again, I do not follow College Football closely enough to comment on UM’s violations there, and it is obvious most of the issues were with the football team. But in Basketball some issues have come to the surface. Let me address them.
Last year, when the investigation of the UM Athletic Program became known I was actually in Raleigh, NC which is the heart of ACC Sports. Speaking to several fans in the area they were hopeful Miami would “go down” partly because North Carolina was also under investigation and UNC had previously a pristine record as far as intercollegiate athletics went. The other aspect of this was that Miami “always cheats” according to some though evidence of this claim has always been scant. I quickly realized that UM was always going to be a lightning rod, and given the public perception of the program that had developed partly by envious fans of UM rivals, the NCAA was going to try their darnedest to nail the University.
Regarding the 2011-12 UM Basketball season, the team ended up in the NIT I believe because of the NCAA investigation. Since the NCAA choose to drag out the probe, players were suspended at random times- DeQuan Jones who allegedly was paid $10,000 missed several early season games, while big man Reggie Johnson missed a critical game at Maryland, the game most responsible for costing the Canes an NCAA berth. Johnson in fact had NOT broken a rule but was being held out because the NCAA notified UM he may have broken a rule. Then Durand Scott was issued a six game suspension right before the ACC Tournament. Missing its best player meant UM despite a winning ACC record missed the tournament even though two schools (Virginia and NC State) with the same ACC record who had not beaten Duke on the road as the Canes had made the “big dance.” In this case the NCAA Selection Committee was correct to send Miami to the NIT, because without Scott, UM would have surely lost a First Round NCAA game.
Scott’s suspension continued into this season, leading directly to the Hurricanes embarrassing November loss to Florida Gulf Coast University. All season long this year, a season when Miami has without a doubt its best team since the late 1990s/early 2000s and perhaps even its best team ever, the NCAA probe now almost two years on has been hanging over the team. It is impossible to explain why this investigation took so long. With the notice of violations issued last week, the Basketball program was largely cleared but since the untimely suspensions last season essentially cost UM an NCAA berth, it feels like the Canes were punished last season. This year, UM is ranked in the top five in the nation currently and leads the ACC, sitting only two games away from an ACC title (Regular Season). Still the early season loss to FGCU, NCAA inflicted because they dragged their feet on charging Durand Scott irks me and has marred the national profile of the program.
The University of Miami does deserve punishment. But more importantly it is important the NCAA gets its ship righted. Can Pam Bondi help do that? Doubtful, but raising awareness of the issue doesn’t hurt and that makes Senator Abruzzo’s request worthwhile.