Miami football scandal: Stop pretending, start paying college athletes

  • Article by: SCOTT GILLESPIE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 18, 2011 - 4:47 PM

Miami football coach Al Golden, center, said some of his players may have made mistakes that prompted an NCAA investigation into convicted Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro's role with the program.

Photo: David Adame, AP

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It’s time to stop the big lie and start paying college athletes more than tuition, room and board.

The latest — and possibly greatest — scandal in big-time athletics is unfolding at the University of Miami, where booster and Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro claims he provided players and recruits with cash, prostitutes, cars and other gifts from 2002 to 2010.

Shapiro isn’t exactly the most credible source: He’s now serving 20 years in federal prison for orchestrating a $930 million Ponzi scheme.

With plenty of time on his hands, Shapiro gave Yahoo! Sports 100 hours of jailhouse interviews — and dozens of revealing photos — detailing how he allegedly played Santa to 72 football players and other athletes and coaches at Miami.

Shapiro also contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Miami’s athletic department, which in turn allowed him to lead the football team out of the tunnel twice and once honored him on the field during a game. 

In one of Shapiro’s photos, the university’s president, Donna Shalala, is cheerfully standing next to Shapiro during a ceremony while holding a $50,000 check the booster was contributing to the basketball program.

And, yes, that’s the same Shalala who served as secretary of Health and Human Services in the Clinton administration and who is credited with the leading the football program’s 1990s resurgence while serving as chancellor  of the University of Wisconsin.

Shalala told the Associated Press that she was “upset’’ by Shapiro’s allegations. Let’s hope that’s an understatement.

Adding a little irony to the Miami dirt, last week Shalala was part of a group led by NCAA President Mark Emmert.

Their mission: To draft an outline for change in college sports in the wake of a year-long series of scandals at a number of high-profile universities. Shalala certainly brought expertise to the discussions.

Commenting on the Yahoo! Sports stories, Emmert told the AP: “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.”

The need for change already existed before Hurricane Shapiro hit south Florida, and that reform should begin with the payroll.

Conferences, universities, coaches and administrators are all enriched by the billions of dollars generated every year by big-time college athletics.

It’s ridiculous that the athletes, many of whom come from poor families and are on campus only because of their athletic skills, aren’t receiving a cut. The only thing “amateur’’ about big-time collegiate athletics today is the hypocritical NCAA rule book.  

Would, for example, some type of annual stipend have kept any of the Miami players away from Shapiro? Who knows? But if Emmert wants to change the culture of college sports, he should start with the economic model.

Bring on the “fundamental change.”

Scott Gillespie is the Star Tribune's editorial page editor.

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