University of Miami Is Target of Five-Month Probe by NCAA

The University of Miami athletic department is the target of a five-month-old investigation of possible rules violations, college sports’ top official said today.

National Collegiate Athletic Association President Mark Emmert confirmed the probe a day after Yahoo Sports said Miami booster Nevin Shapiro, who’s imprisoned for his role in a $930 million Ponzi scheme, provided thousands of impermissible benefits to at least 72 athletes from 2002 through 2010.

“If the assertions are true, the alleged conduct at the University of Miami is an illustration of the need for serious and fundamental change in many critical aspects of college sports,” Emmert said on the NCAA’s website. “This pertains especially to the involvement of boosters and agents with student-athletes.”

Emmert said the NCAA has been “investigating the matter” at Miami for five months.

“The serious threats to the integrity of college sports are one of the key reasons why I called together more than 50 presidents and chancellors last week to drive substantive changes to Division I intercollegiate athletics,” Emmert said.

Shapiro described an eight-year run of NCAA rules violations, some involving participation and knowledge of Miami football and basketball coaches, during 100 hours of jailhouse interviews, according to Yahoo’s 11-month investigation. In addition to cash, Shapiro told the website that the benefits he gave athletes included prostitutes, jewelry, travel, paid trips to nightclubs and restaurants, entertainment in his home and yacht and bounties for on-field performance.

Court Testimony

Shapiro, who gave $150,000 to Miami for an athletic lounge, also said in federal court in September 2010 that he gave cash or gifts to dozens of college athletes.

Miami President Donna Shalala said in a statement that she’s “disheartened and saddened” by the allegations leveled against some current and former athletes and athletic department members.

“I regard these allegations with the utmost of seriousness and understand the concern of so many of you,” Shalala said in a letter addressed to the university community and posted on the school’s website. “We will vigorously pursue the truth, wherever that path may lead, and I have insisted upon complete, honest and transparent cooperation with the NCAA from our staff and students.”

Shalala said the school will work with the NCAA’s enforcement division in a “thorough and meticulous” probe.

New Coach

“If they were exposed to Mr. Shapiro, clearly, we have to make sure that we prevent that from going forward,” Al Golden, Miami’s first-year coach, told reporters today before practice. “How did this guy, if he did, how did he get around our players like that? Me, as a coach, I want to know and I know our assistant coaches want to know, because we want to make sure it never happens again.”

The 42-year-old Shapiro, who was born in Brooklyn, New York, co-owned sports agency Axcess Sports & Entertainment while he was a Miami booster and was providing cash and benefits to players, Yahoo said.

Shapiro’s allegations about violations at Miami were disclosed in multiple interviews with federal prosecutors, Yahoo said.

Shapiro, the former owner of a bogus wholesale-grocery distribution business, was given a 20-year prison term in June after pleading guilty to running a $930 million Ponzi scheme. He was ordered by the judge in the case to pay $82.7 million in restitution.

The 42-year-old Shapiro admitted to stealing $35 million to pay illegal gambling debts, purchase floor seats for Miami Heat basketball games and make mortgage payments on a $5 million house.

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