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January 23, 2013

HURT: NCAA bungles Miami case badly

There is never a good day to be mentioned in an NCAA investigation, as wayward and unpredictable as such an investigation can be.

For everyone who might have been connected to the case involving the University of Miami and overzealous booster (to say nothing of Ponzi schemer) Nevin Shapiro, Wednesday wasn't a bad day either. That might include two University of Alabama employees - offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland and director of football operations Joe Pannunzio - who were mentioned in the story written by Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports which sparked the investigation. (Both were mentioned as having made impermissible recruiting contacts, neither as providing extra benefits.)

In recent weeks, there have been several sourced stories in various media outlets hinting that official NCAA allegations against Miami were due to be released at any moment. There was little or no mention of either Stoutland or Pannunzio in those stories, almost all indicating that the focus - the coaches at whom the NCAA planned to "throw the book" - were former football assistants Clint Hurtt (now at Louisville) and Aubrey Hill (most recently at Florida) as well as former head basketball coach Frank Haith (now at Missouri) and his staff.

There was an even more promising story, at least from Stoutland's perspective, in Wednesday's Palm Beach (Fla.) Post. The Post quoted unnamed sources at Miami as saying that because Stoutland had cooperated with the NCAA investigation, he would probably not face harsh penalties like those expected to hit Hurtt and Hill. While the story was speculative, the scenario - the NCAA going after a fairly limited number of targets, if only to minimize the threat of a multitude of future lawsuits - seems plausible.

For all those "sourced" stories out of South Florida, what is known for a fact in Tuscaloosa is this: The NCAA is required by its own bylaws to notify the UA president if NCAA charges are leveled at current employees, even if the violations occurred elsewhere. The Tuscaloosa News, which has requested such correspondence, if it exists, under open records law, has received no reply or notification.

After Wednesday's events, though, nothing about the Miami case is certain - not even the future existence of the case itself. That is because NCAA President Mark Emmert, in a stunning afternoon press conference, announced that the NCAA is investigating the conduct of its own investigation. One investigator has already been fired. Bylaws have been circumvented. The NCAA apparently hired Shapiro's attorney to secretly aid the investigators.

This isn't the first time that questions have been raised about the NCAA Enforcement Staff. People who have lived in Tuscaloosa know this. There have been other questions at other schools.

The Enforcement Staff has a tough job, but it should have a simple mandate, the same one the schools have: Follow the rules.

In Miami, it appears, the NCAA couldn't do that and a case is jeopardized. More than that, the thin gruel of "faith in the system" is watered down even more.

Now, the question isn't just "when" there will be a final dispensation out of Miami for the involved - or, quite possibly, uninvolved parties. It's "if" there will be any case at all.

TideSports.com Recruiting: Elite weekend in Tuscaloosa

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.


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