By Phil Clark

miamiI am a completest. No matter how long it takes, I always try to complete a series of articles no matter how long it takes. In this case, I’m completing my run through the scandal involving Nevin Shapiro, the Miami (FL) Hurricanes football team, and the university itself.

After going over other elements of the scandal, only one thing remains: would the NCAA‘s death penalty have been warranted regarding this scandal?

The death penalty is basically when the NCAA bans a school from competing in a sport for one year. It has only been used once in college football, with the SMU Mustangs in 1987. That scandal set the precedent for usage of the death penalty in college football and will be what I compare the scandal involving Shapiro and the Hurricanes to.

In all honesty, I can’t see how the scandal involving the Hurricanes even comes close to the SMU scandal. In fact, the only reason I can see that the 2011 scandal involving the Hurricanes would be worthy of the death penalty is the fact that the Hurricanes’ baseball team was in trouble with the NCAA soon before. What does this have to do with the football team and the death penalty? Well, here’s a definition of the death penalty according to an NCAA glossary of terms:

“Death Penalty: The ‘death penalty’ is a phrase used by media to describe the most serious NCAA penalties possible. It is not a formal NCAA term. It applies only to repeat violators and can include eliminating the involved sport for at least one year, the elimination of athletics aid in that sport for two years and the school relinquishing its Association voting privileges for a four-year period. A school is a repeat violator if a second major violation occurs within five years of the start date of the penalty from the first case. The cases do not have to be in the same sport.”

The baseball team received a two-year probation from 2003-05, and Shapiro’s own testimony indicated that he was giving away impermissible benefits before, during, and after this probation. That would qualify the Hurricanes’ football program from receiving the death penalty despite the fact that the first case didn’t involve them.

As far as how the details of how the Hurricanes’ scandal matches up against SMU’s, there’s no comparison and the Hurricanes’ scandal falls well short.

My belief here has to do with the notion that college football players are amateurs and not professionals. This has been the main argument having to do with them not getting paid outside of their scholarships and something that was at the heart of both scandals.

You could categorize what Shapiro was giving away to be one-time gifts. He provided cash, cars, abortions for girlfriends, rented out whole floors of hotels for parties, had parties on his yacht, and so on. Giving all of these things to collegiate athletes is against the rules and though I don’t completely agree with those rules, they are the rules. What SMU was doing was far worse in comparison.

What SMU was doing was not only giving money to collegiate athletes, but they were doing it on a weekly basis based on contracts the players signed. The famous quote from that incident came from former SMU booster, Sherwood Blount, Jr., when he told the board at one point, “You have a payroll to meet.” That quote and the facts that contracts were signed and being honored sounds like what happens at the pro level, but it was happening at the college level.

Compare that to a rich (through illegal means) man spending money like water on players because he liked the team and wanted to hang around the players that played for it, and it’s pretty easy in my opinion to see which instance was worse and more against the NCAA’s rules.

The Nevin Shapiro scandal did reach all the way to the top of the university, but the SMU scandal got nearly as close with the university’s board knowing what was going on the whole time. So that point is a good one, but doesn’t outweigh the distance between the two scandals based on what was given away and how it was given away.

In my opinion, the Hurricanes’ football program may not have gotten quite as severe a punishment as they deserved based on the rules they violated and how far within the university the knowledge of Shapiro’s doings went. However, it didn’t come close to being worthy of the death penalty. And the initial talk in the media of the football program possibly getting the death penalty looks like BS from those who felt the need to make a story juicier when it was already juicy enough. There will likely never be a college football program that is worthy of the death penalty again because of the effect that penalty had on the one team to get it.

The SMU scandal ended up providing powerful lesson to all college football programs that none will ever forget: if you’re going to give away impermissible benefits or break other NCAA rules and those at the top of the university know about it, don’t leave a paper trail that specifically implicates the program, the university, or any of the guilty parties involved. Added to that lesson over the years is the practice of punishing yourself severely enough that the NCAA doesn’t feel the need to kill the entire program because of the created perception that the program and university is repentant and want to make amends for their transgressions.

Follow Phil on Twitter @PhilClark19. You can also follow him on Google+ and his Facebook page.

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Phil Clark

Born in Muskego, Wisconsin, Phil attended UWM and graduated with a bachelor's degree in Creative Writing. A fan of football his entire life, he began writing about football for Inside Pulse in 2007. Since then, he has written for several different sites while writing about football, mixed martial arts, boxing, basketball, and pro wrestling.

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