'Straight Up Revenge' Drives University Of Miami Booster

Aug 17, 2011
Originally published on August 17, 2011 9:40 pm

It's a story that has sent "shockwaves through the world of college sports," as NPR's David Greene said earlier today on Morning Edition:

"A University of Miami booster, incarcerated for his role in a $930 million Ponzi scheme, has told Yahoo! Sports he provided thousands of impermissible benefits to at least 72 athletes from 2002 through 2010."

According to Yahoo!, in an 11-month long investigation it conducted about 100 hours of jailhouse interviews with Hurricanes booster Nevin Shapiro, examined 20,000 pages of his financial and business records, about 5,000 pages of cell phone records, more than 1,000 photos and interviewed nearly 100 other people in six states.

What emerged are claims and evidence from Shapiro that he gave players cash, threw parties for them, hooked them up with prostitutes, entertained them at night clubs and let them use his cars. Shapiro also claims that some Miami football and basketball coaches knew about what he was doing.

Basically, Yahoo! reporter Dan Wetzel told David this morning, "anything you could come up with, Nevan Shapiro [says] he did it."

And what has driven Shapiro to come forward?

"Straight up revenge," Wetzel said. After Shapiro's arrest, trial and conviction for the Ponzi scheme, almost all of the players and coaches he says he lavished with gifts, "stopped being his friend," said Wetzel. "To him, they should have stuck by him, not run from him."

As for the university, the Miami Herald writes today that football coach Al Golden "said he knew 'zero, absolutely nothing" about Shapiro and his sordid history" before the Yahoo! story broke.

The Herald adds that:

"Golden, the only UM official who has spoken publicly about the investigation, was hired in December but apparently not told about Ponzi schemer Shapiro's publicized claims in The Miami Herald last August that former Hurricanes players committed major NCAA violations and that 'they might be great players, but they're certainly not great people.' "

And, according to the newspaper:

"UM released the following statement Tuesday: 'When Nevin Shapiro made his allegations nearly a year ago, he and his attorneys refused to provide any facts to [UM]. The University notified the NCAA Enforcement officials of these allegations. We are fully cooperating with the NCAA and are conducting a joint investigation. The University of Miami takes these matters very seriously.' "

Update at 3:30 p.m. ET:

NPR's Tom Goldman just spoke with All Things Considered host Robert Siegel. As Tom said, it's not just the "impermissible benefits" [the NCAA's term] that players are alleged to have received that make this a huge story. Those include "cash, jewelry, prostitutes, bounties for injuring opposing players, paying for an abortion for a stripper who was paid to have sex with a player."

The alleged misdeeds "go miles beyond the recent infractions reported at Ohio State or USC," said Tom.

Then, he said, there's "the scale. ... [This] allegedly went on for about eight years ... [and] involved over 70 football players and other athletes" and perhaps a half dozen coaches.

Robert pointed out, though, that the story is "both shocking and deeply unsurprising," because "it's just not news that major college sports at big competitive universities are thinly veiled professional sports programs."

"Is anybody talking about fundamental reform that would change that?" Robert asked.

Yes, Tom said, but there's little likelihood of it happening.

"There's too much invested in the current system ... too many people making lots of money on the current system [and] too many fans tied to the tradition of big-time college sports."

So fundamental reform is unlikely, he said, "even if some elements of [major college sports] are seriously corrupt."

Their edited conversation is due on today's All Things Considered. We'll attach it to the top of this post later. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams the show.

Also today, NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement that:

"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. This pertains especially to the involvement of boosters and agents with student-athletes. While many are hearing about this case for the first time, the NCAA has been investigating the matter 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."

As The Associated Press points out, among the more than 50 officials who Emmert called together last week was University of Miami President Donna Shalala.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: And I'm Robert Siegel.

NCAA President Mark Emmert says yesterday's bombshell report about the University of Miami was not news to him. It alleged misdeeds in the school's football and basketball programs. Yahoo Sports reported that a Miami booster, who is currently serving time in prison for running a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme, gave players - to use NCAA parlance - impermissible benefits, and then some.

Emmert spoke on ESPN Radio this morning.

President MARK EMMERT: So we were well aware of it and weren't surprised by the sensational media coverage, cause it's being developed as we speak. So we've been on top of it for a while, gathering information and collecting data. And we'll just continue that process and let it work its course.

SIEGEL: That's NCAA president Mark Emmert on ESPN's "Mike and Mike Show."

And NPR's Tom Goldman is with us for more on this story, and the broader questions it raises about the NCAA. Hi, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN: Hi, Robert.

SIEGEL: Mark Emmert is talking about collecting data, letting the process run its course. This sounds like what the NCAA says every time it investigates any university. Is this investigation any different?


GOLDMAN: Well, certainly the allegations, I would say, are off the charts when you go through the list of alleged wrongs by former booster Nevins Shapiro. It's not just the kind of impermissible benefits, the term you used there, to players: cash, jewelry, prostitutes, bounties for injuring opposing players, paying for an abortion for a stripper who was paid to have sex with a player. These allegations and they are just allegations, are miles beyond the recent infractions reported at Ohio State or USC. It's also the scale, too.

They allegedly went on for about eight years, up until last year. They involved over 70 football players and other athletes, including a number of current members of the football team. And Shapiro says a half-dozen coaches in football and men's basketball knew about it, too.

SIEGEL: Yeah, this developing scandal at the University of Miami touches not just players, but members of the school's athletic department, the administration. How were they allegedly involved?

GOLDMAN: Well, they knew of Shapiro. No one is commenting on whether they knew what he was doing, but there are troubling signs. Shapiro was a big donor. His name, for a time, was on a player's lounge. There's concern that he was able to do all this without interference because he was pumping a lot of money into the university's sports programs.

In the Yahoo article, there's this photo of Miami President Donna Shalala standing next to Schapiro at a basketball fundraising event, looking down and grinning at what Shapiro said was a $50,000 check he gave - money, he says came from his Ponzi scheme. And then you have the school's athletic director, during Schapiro's alleged reign, Paul Dee, he was the chairman of the NCAA Committee on Infractions last year. And he openly scolded Southern California for breaking the rules, and it was allegedly happening under his nose all those years in Miami.

And finally, Robert, Schapiro tells the story of almost getting into a fistfight with Miami's compliance director at a football game in 2007. After that incident, which was corroborated by others, the compliance director investigated Shapiro, discovered what Shapiro was doing, but no one at the university took any action.

SIEGEL: Now there's talk at the NCAA of how colleges should be punished when scandals like these are uncovered. And people use the term the death penalty. What would that be and is it actually possible?

GOLDMAN: Well, that's the harshest punishment that the NCAA can hand down; banning a school from competing in a sport for at least a year. Not sure the NCAA would do that though. It can be devastating to a program. And critics say football at Miami, known simply as the U, is such a big brand and such a moneymaker that the NCAA wouldn't take the extreme step of shutting it down.

Now, as you mentioned, university presidents are on record saying they're fed up with rule breaking, punishment needs to be strictly enforced. We'll see what happens.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.