When Mark Emmert, the former University of Washington president, assumed the presidency of the NCAA a couple of years ago, one of his stated missions was to make the enforcement process more nimble and less cumbersome.
And how’s that going?
If it were a basketball game, you’d probably equate it to an air ball from eight feet.
Wednesday, Emmert had to reveal misconduct in the NCAA investigation of the University of Miami, detailed in this ESPN.com piece. Essentially, it has to do with improper dealings with the defense attorney of Hurricanes booster Nevin Shapiro, the man who got the ‘Canes in this mess by detailing a whole laundry list of impermissible activities that he oversaw.
Emmert was clearly not amused by the latest turn, saying he was “deeply disappointed, frustrated and even angry” at the conduct that could taint the investigation. At the very least, it’s going to delay it, while there’s an investigation into the questionable conduct.
How many of these blows can NCAA enforcement withstand before what little credibility it now holds is in the dumper? In November came the bizarre revelation that the NCAA had to abandon its dogged pursuit of UCLA freshman Shabazz Muhammad. Why? Because an attorney on a Chicago-to-Memphis flight overheard a guy blabbing that Muhammad was going to be ineligible this year, and he knew he this because his girlfriend, so he said, was the lead investigator on the case and she told him.
Might as well have commandeered the flight microphone from the attendant and announced it to the passengers.
These are hardly novel phenomena for NCAA enforcement. It would be wrong to characterize the body as akin to the Keystone Kops, but back in November, I recalled the multiple NCAA misdoings in the Rick Neuheisel/gambling investigation back in 2003. Those included the failure to get a tape recorder turned on in the interview with Neuheisel, and an inflammatory e-mail between two high-level NCAA administrators calling into question whether then-NCAA anti-gambling chief Bill Saum wanted to make an example of Neuheisel. That was a key piece of evidence in the trial.
Through all that, I somehow forgot another key misstep in that Neuheisel saga. After weeks of testimony, NCAA attorneys discovered that they had been working with an outdated bylaw wording pertaining to prior notice to an interview (in this case, Neuheisel) about subject matter. That old bylaw had been the basis for all discovery and testimony, and was the basis for the ultimate settlement in the case.
Was that pivotal to the millions Neuheisel won? I’ll always believe it was, having covered the trial and discussed it afterward with four jurors, two of whom made it pretty clear they weren’t inclined to side with Neuheisel had the matter gone to the jury.
OK, so that was eight years ago. Since then, we’ve seen the interminable Reggie Bush investigation at USC, and now the one at Oregon over its association with talent scout/agent/whatever Willie Lyles is coming up on two years since the revelation of that relationship.
If the NCAA wants to be seen as more nimble and decisive in these matters, it’s not evident yet.
For now, forget nimble. How about demonstrating a hint of competence?