TIME PASSES slowly in Oakdale, La., and more slowly still at the Federal Correctional Institution on the fringe of town. The guards there know their college football, and even if they see the sport through LSU lenses, most of them quickly recognized inmate #61311--050 when he arrived in September 2011. "Everyone says the Louisiana Purchase was a steal of a deal," says Nevin Shapiro, who's serving a 20-year sentence for his role in a Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors of $930 million. "After 20 months in the state, I'd say the French pulled the heist on the U.S. government."
This is an article from the June 17, 2013 issue
Humor like that helps sustain the most notorious college booster in history. In February 2011, Shapiro first began serving up to the NCAA one of the most extensive and apparently straightforward infraction cases ever. He turned over a trove of phone records, bank statements, credit-card receipts and photos to support his claims that between 2002 and '10 he supplied cash, cars, meals, drinks, junkets or gifts to more than 100 football and men's basketball players at Miami, whose teams he had cheered for since he moved to South Florida from Brooklyn at age six. He said he doled out cash bounties and performance bonuses for everything from violent hits to celebration penalties; entertained players at his $6.1 million Miami Beach home and on his yacht, All Axcess; colluded with coaches to pay recruits; supplied prostitutes to players; and lured a half-dozen clients from the Hurricanes' roster for Axcess Sports & Entertainment, the agency in which he held a 30% stake. From Jet Ski joyrides with players in Biscayne Bay to the stripper pole he measured for his luxury box at Sun Life Stadium, Shapiro's heyday reads like a Carl Hiaasen fever dream, and it didn't end until his Chapter 7 bankruptcy and subsequent guilty plea to charges of money laundering and securities fraud in September 2010. His felonious finances had nothing to do with the Miami athletic program—except that they helped bankroll his life as a booster. "[The media are] making a big deal about an Auburn coach giving a player $400," says the 44-year-old Shapiro, referring to a recent report on the sports website Roopstigo.com with that allegation. "That wouldn't even cover the valet for the first 10 guys I'd bring into a club—without the tip."
Bitter at how quickly most Hurricanes abandoned him after his fall, Shapiro shared his story with Yahoo! Sports, which corroborated many of his most damning allegations in an August 2011 report, leading Miami to impose sanctions on itself. Shapiro recalls the day that the NCAA enforcement reps originally assigned to the Miami case, Rich Johanningmeier and Ameen Najjar, were about to cross the threshold of a conference room to meet with him for the first time. "If you guys aren't ready to make history," Shapiro says he told them, "don't enter."
Yet that breakaway slam dunk of a case caromed off the back rim. First Johanningmeier, who had conducted the first 50 hours of interviews with Shapiro, retired from enforcement last spring at 69. Then Najjar, working for a division recently pledged to using a faster timetable and what it called "innovative techniques" to process cases, ignored the advice of the legal department and engineered what he would later call "a way around" to get sworn testimony. Because the NCAA lacks subpoena power, Najjar contracted with Shapiro's lawyer in the bankruptcy case, Maria Elena Perez, to pose questions to two of the booster's former associates who had not been cooperating with the NCAA. Najjar was fired seven months later. NCAA president Mark Emmert condemned the "shocking affair" and ordered up an independent investigation that resulted in the firing of enforcement chief Julie Lach, who had failed to forestall the arrangement with Perez.
News of Perez's role broke in January, months after NCAA management first became aware of it, and just as staffers were stuffing envelopes with Miami's notice of allegations. The NCAA quickly unstuffed those envelopes and dropped any charges based on information gathered from the two depositions. Nonetheless, in February the NCAA sent to Coral Gables allegations that reportedly document some $170,000 in impermissible benefits. Miami then served the NCAA with a motion to dismiss the case entirely. The NCAA turned the petition down, but the lesser charges have Shapiro regretting his choice to turn Miami in. "I thought I was dealing with the FBI," he says. "Instead I was dealing with a bunch of clowns. I gave the NCAA the body, the weapon and the DNA evidence on a platter, and they found a way to screw this up."
The NCAA committee on infractions takes up the Miami matter this week and is expected to announce its findings this summer. But regardless of what happens, the Miami case offers a glimpse into the troubled tenure of Emmert, 60, who has struggled to pass ambitious reforms since taking over in October 2010. It reveals chronic dysfunction in the enforcement division. And it presents the committee with a lose-lose proposition. If the school gets off without further penalties, the current level of cheating in college sports—"a free-for-all," one former NCAA enforcement staffer calls it—is almost certain to continue. Yet if the panel hammers Miami, it will do so after the NCAA's bumbling did more to taint the case than even the flaws of its lead witness did.
IN MARCH, Shapiro reached out to SI to discuss the Miami case and his dealings with the NCAA. SI sent a writer to Oakdale (the prison that housed Shapiro before he was moved to another low-security facility, in Butner, N.C.) in part because Yahoo! had found evidence to support many of his most damning charges. Shapiro supplied SI with documents, from e-mails to bank records, to support several new claims; in the meantime Johanningmeier told SI that he had found Shapiro to be substantially truthful.
During two five-hour conversations in prison, and follow-up e-mails and phone calls, Shapiro regarded his humble circumstances as karmic payback for how large he had once lived. "I had enough money at age 34 to retire," said Shapiro, who's scheduled to be released in 2027. "I ran my life like a circus ... and that lifestyle and behavior led me directly to where I sit today." But his comments usually had a more defiant tone. As he put it, "Somebody will have to answer for all this, because I will not go away."
In a letter he wrote to Emmert last year, Shapiro questioned whether his once beloved Miami will receive what he says it deserves: "the worst punishment ever handed down in the history of the NCAA." He points to an e-mail he received from Najjar shortly after his dismissal, filed in connection with Shapiro's fraud case, in which the former Indianapolis cop complains that his superiors "simply want to get the case done, even if it is half or only one quarter done. I don't know if it is simply to meet some arbitrary time line or the upper levels are trying to save Miami. I suspect it's the latter." Later, in another e-mail, Najjar writes, "Keep the pressure on those SOBs! Don't let them get away with anything"—with Shapiro taking "those SOBs" as a reference to the NCAA and Miami.
Najjar declined to speak to SI. But in several phone calls, Shapiro says, Najjar told him that he feared the case was being handled "president to president," between Emmert and Miami president Donna Shalala. A spokesman for Shalala said she wouldn't comment until the case is complete. Emmert declined to speak to SI, but his spokesman, Bob Williams, says any discussions Emmert might have had with university leaders, "from a process standpoint, not a detail or investigative standpoint, seem reasonable to most people and were requested by our membership."
Still, when Emmert, who came to the NCAA from the presidency of Washington, talks with former peers about cases, he's speaking with members at whose pleasure he serves. And it exemplifies one of two clear ways enforcement work has differed under Emmert from his predecessors—and both changes bear out what Shapiro cites as Najjar's concerns. Gone are the days of NCAA founder Walter Byers's hanging up the phone after simply telling an inquiring school that if it had done nothing wrong, it had nothing to fear from an investigation. There is no evidence that deals are being made, but several ex--enforcement staffers confirm that, as Johanningmeier puts it, "you were more aware that there was an interest from the [NCAA] president's office in the cases than in the past." Another former enforcement rep says that a recent case involving the recruitment of UCLA basketball player Shabazz Muhammad entailed president-to-president communication. "It was very new to us to have those conversations going on above your head," the ex-investigator says.
Second, there has been more pressure to hurry cases since Emmert's No. 2, Jim Isch, began judging all NCAA departments by what he calls "business performance metrics." Upon opening an investigation, a staffer must assign it one of four codes for difficulty, and even the most daunting case is expected to take no more than 12 months to resolve. If a case takes longer, a new quality control directive requires the employee to justify the overrun. As Johanningmeier puts it, the imperative to "Get these things done, [and in] a measurable period of time," routinely ran up against the messiness of the real world—and the Miami case was one he considered to be a two-year undertaking. "We don't make widgets in enforcement," another former investigator says. "We process cases. It takes as long to do a case as it takes."
Though interim enforcement chief Jon Duncan says that "any suggestion that the [enforcement] department is in crisis or on its heels is absolutely not true," numerous current and former NCAA staffers tell of a division full of people desperate to leave, using words like instability, distrust and tension to describe the atmosphere. They point out that, since April, the unit has lost three of its most productive and respected employees. Some of that discontent can be traced to controversial episodes beyond the Miami embarrassment. Enforcement rep Abigail Grantstein was an investigator on UCLA's recruitment of Muhammad, and in August 2012 her boyfriend was overheard boasting on a plane that the NCAA would be finding violations. As a result the NCAA abandoned the case, reinstated Muhammad and ultimately fired Grantstein. Then there's the USC case in which the NCAA sanctioned the school in 2010 after finding that Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush and basketball star O.J. Mayo had received impermissible benefits. After reviewing internal NCAA documents, a California judge recently found enough evidence that NCAA staffers had shown "ill will or hatred" toward Todd McNair, an assistant USC football coach implicated in the case, that he permitted McNair's defamation suit to go forward. And the NCAA's punishment of Penn State after the Jerry Sandusky scandal—it imposed go-directly-to-jail sanctions that included a $60 million fine, a five-year probation, a four-year postseason ban and 40 lost scholarships—was regarded as overreach by many NCAA staffers as well as much of the public, because the enforcement division never conducted an investigation.
Until now it has been inconceivable that an athlete would share incriminating information with the NCAA, only to reverse field nearly two years later to claim that an investigator had "coerced" him into doing so. Last week Miami redshirt senior defensive lineman Dyron Dye filed an incident report with the Coral Gables police department alleging that Johanningmeier "threatened Mr. Dye's football eligibility if he did not cooperate with the investigation" when he sat for the NCAA. To be sure, Johanningmeier has his detractors: In 2002 two Alabama coaches named him in a defamation suit against the NCAA, only to have Johanningmeier dismissed from the complaint; another case, tied to a 2003 investigation of Mississippi State, is still pending. But he says he simply asked Dye to sign a standard NCAA form, presented by a university-hired lawyer, agreeing that he'd be subject to losing his eligibility if he failed to tell the truth.
That's what it has come to: When an enforcement staffer tries to use his most basic tools, the carrot of competition and the stick of ineligibility, he gets reported to the cops. Whether the NCAA's current straits are the result of conspiracy or favoritism, or simply mismanagement or incompetence, the organization has never been so disrespected in so many quarters.
BEFORE EMMERT appointed Julie Lach to head the enforcement division in October 2010, the NCAA circulated among enforcement staff an electronic "applicant packet" with profiles of the four finalists for the position. The documents inadvertently included salary information showing Tom Hosty, an enforcement director, was making tens of thousands of dollars less than another in-house candidate, Lach, who had four fewer years' experience and less time as an on-the-ground investigator.
The steep career trajectories of the 37-year-old Lach, as well as those of such other young, female staffers in the enforcement division as Grantstein, Angie Cretors and Rachel Newman-Baker, touched off jealousy among some colleagues. The e-mail with the salary disparities seemed to confirm suspicions of management's preferential treatment for members of "the Sorority," as some male staffers called a group that included former college athletes and NCAA interns. Lach stressed the importance of tracking social media and data mining, and she began to hire more staff with law degrees, if not always experience working in college sports. Duncan says that 39% of his staff has experience on campuses or in athletic departments. "I remember one time some of my then colleagues at the copier couldn't name all the teams in the Big Ten," says Johanningmeier, a former Missouri State and Illinois College football coach known around the office as Coach. "The thing that really threw them was that there were 11 teams at the time."
In May 2011, the NCAA introduced to great fanfare a corporate sloganeering campaign: One Team, One Future. The new enforcement model would track the OTOF philosophy. After Johanningmeier finished his first interviews with Shapiro, at least five more people were cycled onto the Miami case. "One of the strong points under the old system was that we had a person who knew a case inside out," he says. "With ownership comes responsibility. These were no longer your cases. They were team cases."
Lach argues that the team approach was effective, and points to the Ohio State case that led to the ouster of coach Jim Tressel. She says that the very things Johanningmeier mocks—desktop investigators and the team approach—accomplished in seven months what would have taken one person 18. "The entire case was done," she says, "including the infractions decision, in less than a year."
Soon after an August 2011 summit with selected college presidents, Emmert began to stump for five major reforms. The membership chose to fully implement only the one addressing enforcement, which will take effect in August: more robust penalties to deter cheaters and an expanded committee on infractions to hear cases more quickly. Although recent defections have brought its head count down slightly, the enforcement staff had expanded from 45 to 59 since Emmert took over and began making his presence felt throughout the unit. "Julie is a good person but lacked good direction once she got the job," says a person with knowledge of the infractions process. "I don't think Julie blew her nose without checking with Mark Emmert or Jim Isch."
Under Lach, the NCAA began launching more cases, but it didn't result in the cleaner disposition of a couple of the highest-profile investigations, UCLA and Miami. In the meantime Emmert had been unable to get members to approve his other proposals, including simplifying the NCAA rule book and an increased stipend for athletes. As the subject of the only reform measure to pass, the enforcement division—already the organization's most scrutinized department—felt pressure. "There was definitely a clear message," says Grantstein. "This is not going to fail."
"There was a mandate for change by our membership," says Williams. "The degree to which some people don't like that change and are not happy is probably higher than it's been over the last several years."
FOR YEARS the NCAA had judged investigators on whether they presented enough evidence to support an allegation once a case was brought, often after news of violations broke in the press. Under the new enforcement protocol, management evaluates reps on their adherence to deadlines and their ability to proactively develop information that leads to cases. "I remember being told [by superiors], Find a way to prove it," Grantstein says. "If you hit a brick wall, now the attitude was, Find a way to get through that wall. You can't come back with, I can't prove it." Lach disagrees, saying, "Staff were charged with being thorough and fair. If we hit a dead end, and it was clear the lead was bad or the evidence wasn't there, we shut it down."
Johanningmeier says the team approach was intended in part to speed the process, but he believes it introduced inefficiencies, including instances when multiple enforcement reps would travel to sit in on a single interview. "We had more teamwork under the old system than the one that looks good on PowerPoint with all the boxes and arrows," he says. "I've seen the old system work. I've seen people exonerated and seen people held accountable who should be held accountable."
In the Miami case, Shapiro's parents, girlfriend and some former business associates cooperated because he asked them to. Current Hurricanes spoke too because the NCAA and the school had the power to rule them ineligible if they didn't. But beyond campus—in the clubs of Miami Beach, for instance—no one is likely to welcome a Nosey Parker from the NCAA: That's what can make enforcement maddening work. "We're going into a gunfight with a water gun," a former investigator says. "Sometimes you can't go through the front door, back door or side door. But you still have to figure out a way to get in."
When Grantstein went out on a case, she would tell schools that, as NCAA members, they could recommend changes if they didn't like what she was doing. She senses exactly that happening. "People are questioning the need and effectiveness of an enforcement staff in general," she says, "to the point that I wonder if the membership will say we don't want it."
Former Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe, an ex--NCAA investigator who now runs a risk-management consultancy to help schools minimize misconduct, would like to see enforcement broken off from the rest of the NCAA and turned into a quasi-independent agency like the Securities and Exchange Commission. That way, if an administrator were to call the NCAA president, the president could honestly say that enforcement isn't in his domain. "I don't think it has an actual effect," Beebe says of a call placed to Emmert's office. "But you sure could have the perception of undue influence. In this world, perception can amount to a lot."
"I'm not sure enforcement can survive another 10 years the way it's structured now," adds Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, who got his start in NCAA enforcement. "Every five years or so there's a feeling we have to get tough. Then people can't take it, and the NCAA has to back off."
Or as one high-ranking college administrator puts it, "I'm really concerned. There's a need for a healthy NCAA. It's not healthy right now."
Few of these critics spare the man at the top. Emmert has already had so many calls in the media for his ouster that presidents on the NCAA's executive committee felt compelled to give him a vote of confidence in February. Staffers describe Emmert as heavily invested in his public profile, whether he's handing out the championship trophy at the Final Four, making a TV tour after wading into the Penn State mess or shoehorning himself and his family into an NCAA documentary about Title IX. Among staff he's known derisively as King of the Press Conference, and his knack for commenting on ongoing cases has left investigators exasperated. "There's less interference and noise for the committee on infractions if you don't have the NCAA president saying anything," says former Alabama faculty athletic representative Gene Marsh, a lawyer who spent nine years on the committee. "I'm drop-dead sure the enforcement staff feels the same way."
Interim enforcement chief Duncan says that both the More Cases, More Quickly mantra and the policy of encouraging "innovative techniques" are under review, and he concedes that the department is in flux. "It's been a tough time for the enforcement staff," Duncan says. "They're not immune to the struggles."
Today the enforcement division's serial humiliations are the greatest impediment to investigators, not the water guns in their holsters. "There's a new unwritten policy in place that big cases and major allegations that will open the NCAA up to a large legal or public or media relations liability won't be brought without very serious vetting," a former enforcement staffer says. "I would say now the time is ripe to cheat. There's no policing going on." Duncan disagrees. "It's never a good time to break the rules," he says. "The enforcement staff is not handicapped or debilitated. The enforcement staff is strong."
Still, the irony remains: The King of the Press Conference, who wanted high-profile cases processed on a rocket docket, now takes to podiums in a defensive posture. And he does so because the great achievement on his watch, an overhaul of enforcement, has left that department compromised. As one former enforcement staffer puts it, "Five years ago, enforcement was revered, it was respected and it was feared to a certain extent. Now it's got its tail between its legs."
COLLEGE SPORTS is lousy with sugar-daddy boosters like Nevin Shapiro, though none have been as embedded as he was. He attended the football banquet. He led the Hurricanes out of the tunnel. He prowled the sideline. He accepted a green-and-orange bowling ball from, and signed by, Shalala. After he paid for the Nevin Shapiro Student-Athlete Lounge and its couches, TVs, pool table and video games, the school put a bust of him outside the head football coach's office as if he were a legend in his own time. Which he was, after a fashion: Players called him Li'l Luke, a reference to former 2 Live Crew frontman Luther Campbell, a notorious Miami superfan from the 1980s and '90s. (Although Campbell has admitted he bought meals for players, he denies engaging in the kind of unsavory activities associated with Shapiro—and is suing Shapiro for defamation.) Hurricanes even flashed double L gestures with their thumb and forefinger, Shapiro says, to dedicate great plays to him.
But as a high-stakes gambler embedded in a high-profile athletic program, Shapiro embodied the NCAA's greatest nightmare. And while he says he wasn't party to point-shaving or game-fixing, Shapiro is a kind of Rosetta Stone of corruption, someone who can illuminate the full range of the enforcement division's concerns.
Shapiro described to SI in detail bets he says he placed on 23 Miami games between 2003 and '09, using inside information from 16 Hurricanes players, four coaches and four athletic-department staffers. Further, he says, many knew what he was doing with the intelligence they shared, even if none received direct compensation for their information. Whatever he won on fall Saturdays, he says he'd usually lose, and then some, betting on other sports, and that helped lead to his bankruptcy. But thanks to information flowing out of Coral Gables, Shapiro says, he made money on each of the 23 bets, winning so reliably that his bookie eventually slipped him four Heat season tickets so he wouldn't share his picks with others. A picture emerges of an ecosystem: Hurricanes insiders funnel information to Shapiro; Shapiro gets down a high-percentage play; and many of his informants benefit from Shapiro's large living.
Shapiro says his run began with the Hurricanes' 2003 home opener against Florida. He says that four players and a mole in the athletic department told him that the school's new quarterback, Brock Berlin, wasn't ready for the job. Shapiro wagered $250,000, the same amount he had just pledged to the athletic department. As would come to be his custom, he bet against the Hurricanes, and Florida easily covered the 14-point spread in a 38--33 Miami victory during which his donation was acknowledged over the P.A. system.
Two years later, Shapiro says, he began a gambling relationship with Adam Meyer, the tout behind the handicapping website AdamWins.com. Shapiro says it started with a Nov. 19, 2005, game against Georgia Tech. Hearing from an athletic department staffer that Miami's slow defensive front would struggle trying to stop Tech's scrambling quarterback Reggie Ball, Shapiro bet heavily against the Hurricanes, and Miami, despite being a 17½-point favorite, lost 14--10. (Ball, who struggled for most of the game, ran 16 yards for the winning score.) Financial statements show that Shapiro wired $60,000 to Real Money Sports, Meyer's business, and Shapiro says he collected at least $100,000.
Bank records from 2005 to '08 show dozens of five- and six-figure sums moving from Shapiro's entities to Meyer's during football season, including more than $1.3 million in the final two months of 2007, money that Shapiro says was entirely gambling-related. "I needed Meyer [in order] to bet big, as he was in the mix with a number of gaming outlets and a cash payer," Shapiro says. Several days before Nov. 3, when favored Miami lost 19--16 in overtime to N.C. State, he learned from a coach that quarterback Kyle Wright would be benched because of a bad knee and ankle. (SI could not reach Wright for comment.) "I ran with what I knew and got hold of Meyer," says Shapiro, who says he wound up being the first to tell a stunned Wright that he wouldn't be playing. Shapiro got his bet down before the benching became public knowledge, and the line moved from 13 points to 11. "It was a bonanza," says Shapiro. Records show that, six days after the game, nine wires moved $1.18 million from one Shapiro business, Capitol Investments, to another, Ocean Rock Enterprises. It was all money from the N.C. State game, Shapiro says, that he was shuffling around to put his accounts in order.
Meyer declined comment through his lawyer, Joel Hirschhorn, who says that Meyer would place bets for Shapiro when his client was in Las Vegas. In 2011, Meyer reached an agreement with the bankruptcy trustee to pay Shapiro's defrauded investors $900,000—a sum that Shapiro calls laughably small.
Shapiro says he didn't tell Yahoo! about his gambling because, in the summer of 2011, he hadn't yet been sentenced and didn't want to expose himself to further criminal liability. (Even now, Shapiro runs a legal risk by discussing his bets.) He indicated to the FBI that he had general knowledge of gambling, but the Feds were focused on the Ponzi scheme. And while Shapiro shared some of what he knew about his gambling with the NCAA, Johanningmeier recalls him implicating only one person. "I don't remember him ever fingering or identifying a player," he says. "We did run it out with one coach he named, but there was no way we were going to be able to bring an allegation with what Shapiro told us."
A further exploration of Shapiro's betting foundered after Johanningmeier and Najjar left and the Perez mess went public. Early this year NCAA representatives were prepared to go to Oakdale to hear him out. But Shapiro insisted that his lawyer be present and, as e-mails between Shapiro and NCAA investigator Stephanie Hannah make clear, Shapiro wouldn't consent to the visit after the NCAA balked at paying for Perez to attend. If investigators had come, Shapiro says, "I would have walked them detail by detail through the whole maze."
A DOZEN YEARS ago Tom Hosty said of the enforcement process, "It's not adversarial.... You are trying to get the truth together." That's no longer accurate. Today schools lobby for evidence to be tossed or threaten to sue if they don't like the NCAA's findings or sanctions. The Southern Cal case took four years, and the notice of allegations ran some 500 pages because it included the school's challenges to assertion after assertion. To fight the NCAA, universities now turn to high-powered lawyers like Mike Glazier of Bond, Schoeneck & King, the firm that represented both Miami and UCLA in their recent cases. A former member of the NCAA's enforcement staff, Glazier has represented dozens of schools in infractions cases for over 25 years.
In theory the NCAA and its members are partners. And at first, Miami and the enforcement division seemed to be similarly aligned. As school attorney Judd Goldberg wrote Najjar in an October 2011 e-mail, "The university, like the NCAA, has the same ultimate interest in discovering the truth." Indeed, Miami's lawyers knew from the start that the NCAA was coordinating with Shapiro's lawyer to develop evidence from the bankruptcy subpoenas.
Every school supports stronger enforcement until it is the subject of an investigation. And now, with revenues from football and basketball greater than ever, a school's incentive to challenge every claim of every NCAA investigator is just as great. Miami eventually decided it had more to gain by getting feisty after news broke that the NCAA had contracted with Perez to get the depositions of Sean (Pee Wee) Allen, a former Miami student and former part-time Hurricanes equipment room employee who worked as Shapiro's gofer, and Michael Huyghue, Shapiro's partner in Axcess Sports. Hauled before NCAA investigators shortly after Shapiro went to the NCAA, Allen first denied knowing of anything improper, protestations he has since said were lies he told out of panic. Later, deposed under oath by Perez, Allen repeated some of Shapiro's claims of improper benefits. A school that really shares "the same ultimate interest in discovering the truth" might insist that such testimony be included in the record precisely because it's taken under oath—particularly when Allen would echo, in sit-downs with The Miami Herald, CBSSports.com and ESPN's Outside the Lines, much of what he said in his deposition.
Since the hostile exchange between Miami and the NCAA, two more depositions taken for the bankruptcy case—of Roberto Torres, Shapiro's former CFO, and Marc Levinson, a childhood friend and one of his lawyers—have corroborated that Shapiro entertained Miami athletes in violation of NCAA rules. "To be honest with you, I don't think I had anyone who contradicted him," says Johanningmeier, who adds that other interviewees recounted improprieties or supplied details that Shapiro hadn't known about or remembered. Even if the NCAA didn't include the most salacious charges in the notice of allegations, Johanningmeier says "we did have some individuals acknowledge what he said was correct" about visits to strip clubs where "much more went on than stripping.... If you made a movie out of it, it would have to be X-rated."
Shapiro's credibility has nonetheless remained an issue because of his crimes; Miami called him "delusional and mentally unstable" in its motion to dismiss the case. (As for his own reputation, Johanningmeier disputes media reports that he bought Shapiro a prepaid, disposable phone. He says he wired money into Shapiro's commissary account to pay for phone or Internet service, which is the only way to communicate expeditiously with an inmate—just as SI had to do.) The NCAA, Miami charged, had lied to the school and misled witnesses, and was "unable to detach its desire to believe the most scandalous and gossip-friendly allegations" while subscribing to a "belief that if someone lies twice, it somehow becomes the truth."
Shalala also argued that the Hurricanes had suffered enough from self-imposed penalties that included ruling 13 players ineligible before the 2011 season and a ban on postseason play for two years. Time was when you didn't dare challenge the enforcement division, for that only ensured stiffer sanctions when you inevitably lost. But Shalala's willingness to stand up to the NCAA played well in South Florida. And with so much money riding on big-time college sports, the quaint image of a charged school standing shoulder to shoulder with the NCAA to find the truth has given way to a determination to leverage every advantage to limit any losses.
Today the NCAA is so impotent that Miami may well skate with few further penalties. But the irony in the school's strategy to demonize Shapiro remains: If he was a conniver, he was the Hurricanes' very own conniver—someone the school was only too happy to hold close, and someone with whom athletes, coaches and staff freely consorted. Now Miami wants the world to believe that this same man is too disreputable to credibly implicate its athletic program. This week in Indianapolis, members of the committee on infractions will take the measure of that argument.
Meanwhile administrators, boosters, recruiters and prospects around the country will make another set of judgments: Does the NCAA have the standing to adjudicate cases at all? Is any cop on the beat, cyber-savvy whippersnapper or old school gumshoe, equipped to police college sports today? And if the answer to that last question is yes, does the NCAA have a better chance to enforce its rules under Mark Emmert? Or out from under him?
For more from Pete Thamel on the NCAA's difficulties under Mark Emmert and from Alexander Wolff on his jailhouse dealings with Nevin Shapiro, go to SI.com/mag