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Miami Scandal: The NCAA’s O.J. Trial

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By Jim Weber

The Miami (FL) investigation that just wrapped after two-plus years was the NCAA’s O.J. Simpson trial: Both culprits were caught red-handed and faced the death penalty before a botched prosecution of colossal proportions led to both getting away with murder in the eyes of the law - one figuratively and the other literally.

In the Simpson trial, the prosecution was undone by the Mark Fuhrman tapes, the contaminated DNA evidence, and, most infamously, Christopher Darden and Marcia Clark idiotically having Simpson put on the bloody gloves that had shrunk considerably and no longer fit his hands.

The NCAA’s case against “The U” had a laundry list of mistakes that included an investigator sending Nevin Shapiro $4,500, asking a judge to give Shapiro a light sentence so the NCAA could use him as an informant and the NCAA’s “bloody glove” moment that doomed the case: Paying Shapiro’s attorney to illegally obtain subpoenaed testimony to use for its own case since potential witnesses weren’t talking.

The moment that became public the NCAA’s case against Miami was done. I can almost hear the late Johnnie Cochran somewhere repeating the phrase, “If the NCAA’s run like sh*t, you must acquit!”

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And that’s essentially what the NCAA did on Tuesday by handing down a punishment of nine reduced scholarships for possibly the biggest scandal in college football history. It’s the equivalent of making University of Miami president Donna Shalala sit in the corner for 15 minutes.

At this point, I’m not for or against a harsh NCAA punishment since the investigation took so long (personally, I think the NCAA should have ruled in 2011 with at least a two-year bowl ban). But there’s no other way to say it except Miami got a “get out of jail free” card from the NCAA despite president Mark Emmert’s promise of being tough on crime.

Miami did not go completely unpunished. It reduced its own scholarships and sat out two bad bowl games and an ACC Championship Game. But the fact self-imposed penalties are even part of college sports is a joke (can you imagine if our legal system partially relied on “self-imposed” punishments by defendants?).

“The U” never would have been in that position if the NCAA had done its job prudently and ruled expediently in 2011. The fact is “The U” got no NCAA bowl ban despite the Shapiro scandal allegedly involving 72 players and $170,000 over nearly a decade (which, by the way, dwarfed the 1980s SMU scandal for which the program received the death penalty) because Emmert was screwed either way he ruled at this point; this was clearly a mistrial and Emmert didn’t have the option of starting over.

If he crushed Miami, the NCAA would have been crucified for all the mistakes it made during the case, from the ungodly length of it to illegal activity in trying to obtain information. I wouldn’t have been surprised in the least if the University of Miami lawyered up and sued the NCAA over a bowl ban. Instead, Emmert chose to go easy on “The U” and just accept all the people ripping the organization for being toothless and impotent in its power.

Trust me, Option B is a lot better than Option A - although both are another huge embarrassment for the organization and its leader.

So here Emmert sits, like the L.A. police and prosecutor’s office nearly 20 years before it, realizing the failure to conduct a competent investigation just allowed a legal system to be made into a mockery.

Jim Weber is the founder and president of LostLettermen.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @JimMWeber and @LostLettermen.

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