NCAA probes booster's claims about gifts to Miami athletes

Posted: August 18, 2011

CORAL GABLES, Fla. - With investigators five months into checking allegations that a Ponzi scheme artist spent freely on University of Miami athletes, the NCAA president said Wednesday that if the claims are confirmed, they show the need for "fundamental change" in college sports.

Former Hurricanes booster Nevin Shapiro, now serving 20 years in federal prison, claims he provided players with cash, prostitutes, cars, and other gifts from 2002 to 2010. Shapiro told Yahoo Sports that 72 football players and other athletes at Miami received improper benefits from him in the last decade.

"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," NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a statement.

The Hurricanes' entire football team practiced Wednesday, even though Shapiro's claims involve several current players. Coach Al Golden said it was too soon to take disciplinary action. His team opens the season Sept. 5.

Last week, Emmert led a group of university presidents in drafting an outline for change in college sports. The group included Miami president Donna Shalala.

"The serious threats to the integrity of college sports are one of the key reasons why I called together more than 50 presidents and chancellors last week to drive substantive changes to Division I intercollegiate athletics," Emmert said in his statement.

In the last 18 months, the football teams at Southern California, Ohio State, Auburn, Oregon, Michigan, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, and Louisiana State have been investigated or sanctioned by the NCAA.

Shalala said she was upset, disheartened, and saddened by Shapiro's allegations.

"We will vigorously pursue the truth, wherever that path may lead, and I have insisted upon complete, honest, and transparent cooperation with the NCAA from our staff and students," Shalala said in a statement.

Most cases are resolved in six to seven months, but more complex investigations take longer, an NCAA official said.

Shapiro was sentenced to prison in June for masterminding a $930 million Ponzi scheme, and was ordered to pay more than $82 million in restitution to investors. He gave 100 hours of jailhouse interviews to Yahoo Sports, the website reported.

NCAA investigators were on the Miami campus this week and have interviewed Shalala and Shawn Eichorst, who was hired as athletic director in April to replace Kirby Hocutt. Golden, the former head coach at Temple, is in his first year as Miami's coach after Randy Shannon was fired. He said he is eager to obtain answers quickly, in part so his players don't repeat mistakes.

"If they were exposed to Mr. Shapiro, clearly we have to make sure we prevent that going forward," Golden said.

Yahoo Sports published its story Tuesday, saying that in addition to interviewing Shapiro over 11 months, it audited thousands of pages of financial and business records to examine his claims, some involving events of nearly a decade ago.

A person familiar with the situation said much of Shapiro's access to Hurricanes programs in recent years was approved by Hocutt, who is now at Texas Tech. Hocutt, the person said, allowed Shapiro on the sideline before football games at times during the 2008 season, and invited him to select gatherings reserved for the athletic department's biggest donors.

In a statement, Hocutt said Shapiro was treated like other members of the Hurricane Club.

Larry Coker, who coached the Hurricanes in 2001-06, said he had not been contacted by the NCAA or Miami about the investigation.

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