NCAA’s Miami investigation exposes an organization in need of an overhaul


NCAA President Mark Emmert fired the organization’s vice president of enforcement in the wake of its investigation of the University of Miami. (Darron Cummings/Associated Press)
John Feinstein
Columnist February 20, 2013

The NCAA notified the University of Miami on Tuesday that the school is being accused of a “lack of institutional control,” because it allowed a booster named Nevin Shapiro to infiltrate its athletic department and have relationships with athletes that were both personal and — according to Shapiro — financial.

The timing of this notice is beyond laughable. It came about 24 hours after NCAA President Mark Emmert was forced to fire his hand-picked director of enforcement, Julie Roe Lach, for — wait for it — bungling the Miami investigation.

John Feinstein is a sports columnist for The Washington Post and also provides commentary for the Golf Channel and National Public Radio. View Archive

This is the Keystone Kops vs. Inspector Clouseau.

On Monday, Emmert described Lach’s decision to pay Shapiro’s lawyer for information in its Miami investigation, which was approved by Emmert’s No. 2 man, Jim Isch, as “missteps.” This is the NCAA way: Find a euphemism that fits in place of the truth. (The height of comedy came Tuesday when Shapiro’s lawyer, Maria Elena Perez, said that if she had known how incompetent the NCAA was, she would have advised her client not to cooperate with it. Meantime, she had no problem at all collecting almost $19,000 from the incompetents — while billing them for close to $58,000.)

But the enforcement debacle is not what ails the NCAA, and neither is Emmert. Both are symptoms of a system gone wrong, one that needs to be abandoned.

The NCAA needs to go the way of typewriters, the Edsel and black-and-white TV. Its time has passed. Collegiate sports can no longer be run with an iron fist — especially an incompetent one — or with the quaint notion that Quinnipiac women’s basketball can operate under the same rules as Alabama football.

The NCAA accelerated its path toward irrelevance years ago, when Emmert’s predecessors, Cedric Dempsey and Myles Brand, ceded control of football to conference commissioners — wanting no blame for the cartel that was the Bowl Championship Series when it was created 15 years ago. That abdication of ownership is a major reason why conference realignment has been allowed to burn out of control like a wildfire.

In absence of any central authority, conference commissioners have been able to pillage one another for schools in order to try to maximize their appeal to television networks. If the NCAA controlled football and if there were rules in place that prevented schools from jumping conferences haphazardly, the current chaos would never have started.

A private organization has a right to make rules. If the members agree to those rules, they must follow them.

If rules existed making it impossible for any school to change conference affiliation without approval from an outside committee, the lawsuits presidents might threaten in order to jump from, say, the ACC to the Big Ten, would be meaningless.

The NCAA blew it — following the Neville Chamberlain’s “peace for our time” route — and it has worked out about as well as Chamberlain’s approach worked in 1938.

That’s mainly because the organization is made up of academics such as Emmert, who lack a sophisticated understanding of all the forces at work in modern athletics. Seventeen of the 20 members of the NCAA executive council are either college presidents or chancellors. There are three token members who are involved in athletics — two commissioners and one athletic director — who apparently are there to explain to the other members which one is the funny-shaped ball and which one is the round one and, no doubt to fetch coffee when needed.

So not only is Emmert’s status under no threat — the presidents aren’t going to humiliate one of their own — any replacement approved by that group isn’t going to be substantially different

But even if the NCAA had competent leadership, it would be time to start all over again. For several years now, Duke basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski has been saying that there should be three separate organizations, not one. “We need an organization that does what’s best for college football, one that does what’s best for [men’s] college basketball and one that does what’s best for non-revenue sports,” Krzyzewski proposes. “The needs of each are too different for us to keep acting like they’re the same thing. They’re not.”

Each should have a commissioner, someone who is of the sport and from the sport and familiar with the particular needs and nuances of each. It should be somebody smart, tough and experienced and not somebody concerned with image. That’s not easy to find but there are people out there. No one knew who Pete Rozelle and David Stern were before they completely re-made the NFL and NBA, respectively.

Mike Slive, the current commissioner of the SEC, would be a reasonable choice to run football. Potential basketball choices could include former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese or Greg Shaheen, the former NCAA vice president fired last year by Emmert, or Terry Holland, the former Virginia coach who is now the athletic director at East Carolina.

The presidents should be completely removed from the process except (perhaps) to help in fundraising at their schools. College athletics need someone in charge, but the people in charge should know something about college athletics. It is time to go back to square one.

For more by John Feinstein, go to washingtonpost.com/feinstein.

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