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Concurrent scandals will put ACC leadership to test; more Mailbag

We begin this week's Mailbag with a programming note. As you may be aware, the 2011 season kicks off NEXT WEEK. You can expect three regularly scheduled pieces from me each week: College Football Overtime on Mondays, the Mailbag on Wednesdays and Weekend Pickoff on Fridays in addition to other assorted columns and features. Andy Staples will write his weekly Power Rankings on Tuesdays in addition to columns, features and restaurant reviews. And I'd strongly recommend getting acquainted with the newest addition to our team. Holly Anderson, formerly of Every Day Should be Saturday, brings her unique and hilarious insights to SI.com's new Campus Union blog, where she'll be opining multiple times a day.

But this already felt like Game Week for me. I had several hundred e-mail submissions to choose from; however, 80 percent of them had nothing to do with football games. Of the many, many Miami-related submissions, I tried to find a few that provided a more unique angle than "Will Miami get the death penalty?" or "(ANGRY) (ANGRY) the NCAA (ANGRY) hypocrisy (ANGRY ANGRY) broken."

Stewart, what are the odds of ACC commissioner John Swofford issuing an apology to the league's fan base for inviting Miami to join the conference? I don't blame Swofford for wanting to expand the league, but Boston College was not and is not a good fit and all Miami brought was its outlaw reputation and a mediocre football team that is a shadow of its glory days. The only school that has fit in is Virginia Tech, and it was a last-minute replacement for Syracuse when the Virginia legislature stepped in and demanded that Tech be invited or else.-- Vince, Raleigh, N.C.

The odds are zero. But you raise an excellent point that's gone largely unnoticed outside Tobacco Road.

Eight years ago, Swofford set the college football world ablaze with the ACC's backroom courtship of Miami, infuriating his then-Big East counterpart, Mike Tranghese, and setting off a domino effect that rippled all the way to the WAC and Sun Belt -- all to turn his traditionally provincial basketball-driven league into a veritable football power conference. It certainly paid off financially: The league has gone from earning $20 million a year for its football television rights in 2003 to an average $155 million for football and basketball beginning this season. At the time, however, there was genuine debate about whether the expanded ACC had gained equal on-field footing with the SEC. If anything, the gap has widened. But the league has come to mirror the SEC of the late 1990s/early 2000s in one area: rampant rule-breaking.

Later this year, North Carolina will go before the Committee on Infractions for violations involving academic fraud, extra benefits and employing an assistant coach who was allegedly employed by an agent. While we don't know what the sanctions will be, the scandal cost Butch Davis his job and will likely doom that program to extended mediocrity. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech just went on probation for the second time in the last six years. And now Miami is accused of massive booster-related violations that will likely result in a lengthy investigation (over/under: three years) and heavy sanctions.

The ACC has always prided itself on integrity, and while there's nothing to suggest this is some sort of conference-wide epidemic, the UNC and Miami scandals are two huge stains to be dealing with at once. The Tar Heels were never particularly relevant in football to begin with, but the league has been banking heavily on the eventual resurgence of Florida State and Miami, the latter of which is likely now shelved indefinitely. Swofford has never been a particularly outspoken commissioner -- he mostly echoes what Mike Slive and Jim Delany say first about the NCAA or BCS -- but the next few years will be a real test of his leadership. If the SEC does in fact go forward with expansion, most assume it will talk to Virginia Tech, the ACC's recent stalwart. AD Jim Weaver was pretty vehement about his school's allegiance to its current conference when rumors first surfaced a couple of weeks ago, but you have to wonder whether the Miami situation will give Virginia Tech (or Florida State or Clemson) reason to reconsider.

Many pundits are arguing the Miami scandal is "nothing" compared to SMU in the mid-80s. But haven't standards changed? Shouldn't schools be held to a higher standard now that compliance offices are the norm? What allegedly happened at Miami is disgusting; if anything, it should be more shocking than the SMU case. I can't see letting Miami off easy because things used to be worse. Your thoughts?-- Sam, Montgomery, Ala.

Are these "pundits" you speak of writing on Miami message boards? Because I haven't heard those "nothing" comments you refer to. Having said that, I would urge anyone who's trying to presumptively compare the two cases to go back and do some research on what happened at SMU. (Easiest way: Rent the Pony Excess 30 for 30 documentary.) There you had an orchestrated scheme in which boosters essentially established a payroll for SMU players with the involvement and approval of school board members. They did this for years, were placed on probation several times, were explicitly warned by the NCAA to stop the practice immediately, yet kept doing it. Clearly, that's a more brazen disregard for rules on an institutional level than what's been alleged to date at Miami.

But you raise an interesting point about compliance. It's true that schools are held to a higher standard for self-policing these days. Therefore, I've got to believe the NCAA will be particularly interested in one specific anecdote from the Yahoo! report: the alleged 2007 press-box confrontation between Nevin Shapiro and Miami's associate athletic director for compliance, David Reed. If ever there were a red flag, that would be it. And according to several reports out of Miami, former coach Randy Shannon was apparently on to Shapiro and trying to distance his players from the booster. Did he say anything to Reed? If so, what did Reed do with the information? Why was Shapiro allowed continued access to all-things Miami? Why did the school name a players' lounge after him? Clearly there was a breakdown in oversight somewhere up the chain, which will go a long way toward determining the severity of the sanctions. Even that, however, is not in the same orbit as board members authorizing player payouts.

Stewart, lump me and the rest of Miami fans with the overly sensitive bunches at Southern Cal, Ohio State and Auburn. Oh, and I am admittedly a hypocrite because if Shapiro-Gate was happening at UF or FSU, I would be dancing on the ceiling. But I am a fan. I don't expect us to be reasonable. But what about the media? There seemed to be an overwhelmingly swift knee-jerk guilty verdict from media throughout the nation based on the Yahoo! report. What's your theory on the "fanatical" reaction of the media to the story instead of letting the process play out?-- Jim, Ft. Lauderdale

Welcome to the club, Jim. Like your fellow brethren in the NCAA doghouse, you've come to the realization that the media suddenly morphs into a bunch of hyperbolic attack dogs whenever trouble lands at your doorstep. We live in a 24/7 media climate (and with Twitter, I'd actually call it a second-by-second media climate) where deliberative and reasoned analysis simply doesn't cut it. In the 48 hours following Yahoo!'s report, I was asked to appear on CNN, NPR and countless radio shows across the country, and every host or anchor asked the same question: "Will Miami get the death penalty?" Not: "Do you think these accusations are true?"

But you also have to consider the messenger. Yes, there's ample reason to question the credibility of a guy currently serving 20 years for his role in a Ponzi scheme, and if he'd spilled his guts to MyFootballBlog.com, we'd all be taking it with a grain of salt. But over the past five years, Charles Robinson and Yahoo! Sports have broken scandals at USC, Connecticut, North Carolina (the John Blake part) and Ohio State, and in every instance they were validated by the NCAA. You can pick apart various details all you want, but if Robinson says he spent 11 months corroborating Shapiro's allegations, I'm inclined to believe him. I understand that "shoot the messenger" is the default defense mechanism for any fan base of a school accused of malfeasance, but so far this particular messenger has been bulletproof.

Hey Stew, you still mad at USC? So the NCAA comes in and doesn't let USC go to a bowl game, what was Texas' excuse? Trojans will always be the best college football team ever. We know it and you know it.-- Gabriel, San Jose, Calif.

I don't have the foggiest idea what you're trying to say here, but nevertheless, it's good to see the swagger is back at Troy, even if it took another school getting in trouble to make it happen.

Jordan Jefferson's misadventure is indicative of the leadership of the team, not just the mistake of a college kid, and in my opinion is an extension of the coach's leadership (or lack thereof). Is this the beginning of the end for LSU's BCS hopes or a blessing in disguise?-- Pearce C., Baton Rouge, La.

I've been hesitant to comment specifically on Jefferson's situation because while reports indicate he engaged in some very vile activity during last week's LSU bar fight, none of it has been verified and no charges have been filed. Generally speaking, however, it is not usually a recipe for success when 15 to 20 of your players, including supposed senior leaders like Jefferson, break curfew, go out late and get in a bar fight just more than two weeks before opening the season against the No. 3 team in the country (Oregon).

There is no "blessing in disguise" for LSU, even if you're one of the many Tigers fans who was hoping someone other than Jefferson (either Jarrett Lee or Zach Mettenberger) would be lining up under center even before this incident. It's a major distraction that will continue to hover over the team for as long as the police investigation drags out, and possibly longer if players are suspended. LSU is capable of beating Oregon, with or without Jefferson. Its defense was always going to be the key to that game. This is about the longer-term affects and the very legitimate questions Pearce raises about leadership and locker-room morale.

Hi Stewart. I enjoy your columns and the Mailbag very much. Are new-hire coaches who change a team's offensive scheme (pro style-to-spread or vice versa) doomed to fail? Combining the several years required to recruit the right players and learn the system with an ever-increasing win-now mentality from fans and athletic directors seems like a recipe for disaster.-- Doug, Hershey, Pa.

There have certainly been disasters. Bill Callahan switching Nebraska from the triple-option to the West Coast offense and Rich Rodriguez converting Michigan from pro-style to the spread both produced losing seasons that ended long bowl streaks for both schools. Even coaches who went on to wild success with their offenses encountered difficulties their first season, like Urban Meyer with his spread-option at Florida. It's one of the reasons I'm nervous for Brady Hoke at Michigan this season, as it seems the Wolverines are about to undergo the same radical transition in reverse.

But it's not impossible, and we've seen plenty of success stories. The coach has to be a very good teacher, and, most importantly, he has to have a quarterback on hand capable of running his offense. Oregon had immediate success when Chip Kelly took over as offensive coordinator in 2007 in large part because he inherited Dennis Dixon, the ideal prototype for his version of the spread. Paul Johnson turned Georgia Tech from a pro-style team to an option team and won nine games thanks in large part to Josh Nesbitt, an ideal option quarterback who had been sitting on the bench there. And Oklahoma State certainly took to Dana Holgorsen's offense last season, but he shouldn't get all the credit; Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon are both exceptional at what they do.

The best coaches adapt to the personnel they have, but with the ever-growing split between spread and pro-style, we're seeing more and more coaches who are wedded to a particular system.

Hoke's not dumb. He's not going to let Denard Robinson's running ability go to waste. He's going to line him up in the shotgun from time to time and let him do his thing. But at the end of the day he's a pro-style guy, and he's going to do what he knows. Hopefully he can find the right balance.

Stewart, do you actually think that Oklahoma can win the BCS title this season? The Sooners start the season at a huge statistical disadvantage. Oklahoma is a landlocked state. The last team from a non-coastal state to win the title was Ohio State in 2002, but given the lake access of the state they would hardly be considered landlocked. In fact only two landlocked states have won the title: Oklahoma in 2000 and Tennessee in 1998. Clearly geography has stacked the deck against the Sooners before the season even starts.-- Chris Tidwell, Auburn, Ala.

Hmm. Well that changes my perspective on everything. Though I have to ask, if access to lakes is such an important factor in winning championships, what's Minnesota's excuse?

Hey Stewart! With all the coverage this year over major scandals (Miami, Ohio State, UNC, et al), why has little to nothing been written or reported about Boise State's violations -- and subsequent firing of longtime AD Gene Bleymaier? They too may face the dreaded "lack of institutional control" finding. With Boise State now a perennial Top 10 team, why has little (or nothing) been made of its scandal? Thanks!-- Jeff Croucher, Caldwell, Ohio

When the news of Boise State's infractions originally came out last spring, most people either laughed it off or, in some cases, criticized the NCAA for coming down so hard on Boise for what seemed like trivial offenses. That's because all anyone paid attention to was football, where the violations arose from the school inadvertently providing impermissible benefits by, of all things, arranging for incoming freshmen to crash at returning players' apartments for summer workouts. That's a far cry from strippers, tattoo parlors and prostitutes.

But if you read the full report, you know the athletic department was basically utterly clueless when it came to compliance. First of all, it only had one full-time employee. Second of all, under Bleymaier's watch, the women's tennis coach provided benefits to a recruit and allowed a player to compete before she was actually enrolled at the school; an assistant track coach provided benefits to a recruit; and five different sports combined to commit 20 major violations. I feel bad for Bleymaier, who spent nearly 30 years in his job and deserves immeasurable credit for turning that program into a national force. But it's not unreasonable for the school's president, Bob Kustra, to hold the athletic director accountable for such wide-ranging compliance breakdowns.

To me, the story is most significant in terms of how it affects Chris Petersen. The sixth-year coach has remained incredibly loyal to Boise, deflecting several high-profile suitors, but there's no guarantee he'll enjoy the same relationship with the new AD that he did with Bleymaier, and you never know how that might influence similar possibilities in the future.

Did you really just offer us the voice of Bobby Hill as a Mailbag Crush?-- Jordan, San Juan Capistrano, Calif.

There is no Mailbag Crush. The Mailbag Crush is dead. I merely provided you the link to a picture of the sassy, often foul-mouthed brunette actress from Louie and Californication ... and yes, the voice of a King of the Hill character.

She's talented.

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