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February 19, 2013

HURT: NCAA is in denial

The NCAA admission Monday that its investigation into the University of Miami has been so badly mismanaged that high-ranking officials in the organization were fired sparked a wave of indignation - and, in some quarters, no surprise.

Julie Roe Lach, the NCAA vice president for enforcement, lost her job because of her lax oversight of overzealous investigators on her staff, which ultimately led to actions such as approving a $20,000 payment to the attorney of Nevin Shapiro, pyramid-schemer and the central figure in the Miami mess.

Several columnists don't think the bus should stop blithely on top of those that have been thrown under its wheels. There are calls for accountability that include demands for the resignation of NCAA President Mark Emmert.

That isn't entirely unfair. After all, the NCAA has at least given lip service to the notion that head coaches should be sanctioned for the actions of their assistants. There is also a lingering impression that the NCAA acted with supreme arrogance (in other words, the same old thing) in its dealings with Penn State, overstepping its bounds in dealing out sanctions without any investigation, or hearing or other semblance of due process. Given the way the Miami investigation was botched, perhaps that is for the best.

Without leaping to Emmert's defense, though, he didn't create the problems with the enforcement staff. He inherited them. I was writing about these issues 20 years ago, and again a decade later, and the same attitudes that would lead an investigator to buy a temporary phone so he could talk to a convicted felon without being traced in the Miami case were prevalent in Alabama investigations as well - not surprising, since it was the same investigator, Rich Johanningmeier.

The Alabama case is long since over, and buried, and the football program has emerged from the ashes and is doing just fine. It is interesting, though, that attitudes have suddenly changed so much. Suddenly, Miami - hardly an institution with a choirboy image over the years - is seen as the victim and the NCAA as the villain. Yet the NCAA really hasn't changed much in its methodology. People are just watching more closely.

Certainly, Emmert should have known about the shenanigans specific to Miami. But the machine was broken before he ever arrived. Should he have come in with a monkey wrench to fix it? Should he be fired because he didn't. Or is this the time to recognize that NCAA Enforcement has an impossible task, one that has long since spun out of control?

As college athletic programs generate more and more money, there seems to be less and less righteous indignation about players getting some slice of the pie. That doesn't mean that rules are made to be ignored. Fair play is still the order of the day, no matter how many programs are allegedly looking the other way. But for all its vaunted "simplification" of recruiting rules last month, the NCAA really isn't any closer to solving its problems. And its first problem is a huge institutional arrogance that has denied, for at least 20 years, that a problem might possibly exist.

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


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