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Nevin Shapiro, Kirk Cousins, and Redefining Amateurism for the 21st Century

I finally finished reading the 7000 word investigative masterpiece done by Charles Robinson and Dan Wetzel*     which, if you have yet to read it, I implore you to drop everything and do so right now     as well as a handful of reaction pieces (The best of which are, as always, Matt Hinton and Spencer Hall) and I only have one thing to say:

I am speechless**.

Honestly, there is no other reaction to what might be the most perfectly crafted, blatantly obvious, fantastically opulent, and all-encompassing NCAA scandal in the history of "amateur" athletics.  This is the kind of story that screenwriters work their whole lives to craft.  It has everything:  crooked boosters, star players, money, prostitutes.  Once again, real life trumps anything we could ever dream up (well, almost anything).  Lets run it back in all of its glorious excess:

A life long Miami fan gains large sums of ill-begotten money through "real estate deals" around the turn of the millennium and starts paling around with players, giving out tickets to sporting events and small gifts like TVs (yeah, "small gifts").  As he makes a name for himself around the program things begin to escalate until he is throwing lavish parties in hotels, nightclubs, and strip joints.  Of course there is thousands of dollars of booze involved, strippers too, and actual prostitutes (as if there is any difference between the two when you start dropping over a grand on them).  The parties spill over to his mansion and private yacht (into which Kellen Winslow crashed a jet-ski, presumably.  Solider on, Kellen), as do the hookers     of course. All the while the man is still donating money hand over fist to the program, to the point that they put his name on the player's lounge, give him luxury suites at games, and let him lead the team out from the tunnel during games twice.  On top of that, he buys 30% stake in a sports agency so he can shuffle players over there and make money off them.  Doing his best "Uncle Luke" impression, Shapiro offers payouts for in game accomplishments, including bounties for injuring certain players.  Things spiral so far out of control that the man actually tries to fight Miami's head of compliance, because everyone at the school knows something fishy is going on and the HoC is the only one to tell Shapiro to take a step back.  Not only did a handful of coaches know this was happening, but they facilitated meetings in the hopes of landing recruits.  And for your last dose of sweet, sweet irony: the athletic director for most of this time, Paul Dee, is the same man who would later say "high profile players require high profile compliance" while handing down a bitch slap to USC over the Reggie Bush fiasco (or as Nevin Shapiro would call it, "just another Tuesday").  And the best part     and you best believe I wish I had wrote this years ago, because Hollywood would weap tears of gold when I slapped this screenplay down on the six-figure oak conference table     Shapiro paid for everything with money he earned from running a nearly billion dollar Ponzi scheme that landed him 20 years in, one would think, a federal pound-me-in-the-a**-prison.

Bravo, sir.  Bravo.

Now, if this is all true     and as I said before, it would be hard to make this sort of thing up     one would think Miami has to begin to worry not about the death penalty, but the very right granted to them to even play football at the FBS level.  I'm not saying that the NCAA is going to burn the place to the ground, but when you look at everything that supposedly went on, a total and complete annihilation of everything stamped with an orange and green U on it in south Florida seems like the least the NCAA could do.  However, Shapiro is a convicted felon, and obviously has an ax to grind with so many of the former players who couldn't care less about him now that he is behind bars.  A couple more stray observations:

- Does anyone believe Nevin Shapiro only paid for one abortion?  Really?  You're telling me that of all the thousands of times players were provided with hookers, that only one of them ever got knocked up?  Is one abortion mention all we need to get our feathers sufficiently riled in this country?  Would the mention of two or three abortions cause much of our southern contingent of CFB fans to begin foaming at the mouth?

- Furthermore, who believes that Shapiro wasn't dipping in himself during these parties.  Who buys hookers for upwards of 20-30 guys only to sit around twiddling his thumbs waiting for everyone to finish so they can go to the club.  "Come on guys, hurry it up."  "Just a minute, Teddy."

- On that note, can anyone guess the one part of this that made me laugh out loud?  Two words:  Teddy Dupay; the best hotel alias since Ron Mexico.

- Is Al Golden on suicide watch yet?

More after the jump...

In the end, I don't really know what to say in reaction to all of this.  It is like walking out of a movie theater stunned after seeing an amazing movie     I imagine it is something like seeing the Godfather for the first time in 1972.  It takes time to process everything.  Whats more, we won't have any idea what the NCAA is going to do for probably well over a year.  The corruption runs too deep, and there are simply too many facts to check, interviews to do, and leads to follow.  One thing I can say, I am in total agreement with Matt Hinton:  I know that the NCAA regretted using the death penalty against SMU, but if there was ever a case that called for it again, you have to believe this is at least an option.  Look at just how many NCAA rules were broken

"All told, the length, breadth and depth of the impropriety Shapiro has alleged would potentially breach multiple parts of at least four major NCAA bylaws – and possibly many more. Shapiro described acts that could include violations of multiple parts of bylaw 11, involving impermissible compensation to coaches; multiple parts of bylaw 12, involving amateurism of athletes; multiple parts of bylaw 13, involving improper recruiting activity; and multiple parts of bylaw 16, involving extra benefits to athletes.

Perhaps most troubling is Shapiro’s sustained impropriety could trigger the NCAA’s "willful violations" exception to its four-year statute of limitations. Under bylaw 36.2.3, an investigation can expand beyond the statute if information reveals that an individual tied to a university has engaged in "a pattern of willful violations" over a sustained period beyond the previous four years."

Not to mention the far reaching consequences.  The coaches involved that are now working at other schools (seven, including former Miami basketball head coach and current Missouri basketball head coach Frank Haith), players now playing at other schools (another 7), players still in the Miami program (including Jacory Harris, LB Sean Spence, and 14 others), not to mention the shadow that this investigation places the entire sport under (numbers courtesy of Matt Hinton in his aforementioned reaction piece).  The scariest part of this whole thing is not how lavish and out of control it all became, but how close it was to never being uncovered at all.  If Shapiro doesn't go to jail for 20 years on securities fraud, none of this sees the light of day.  Now, I'm not going to say that "this happens everywhere" because it obviously doesn't.  I doubt 90% of the schools in FBS even have the kind of booster support to fund these Caligula-esque parties.  But certain levels of impropriety and illicit benefits obviously can and do go on at schools all over the country, which raises the question: what is the ideal of amateurism that we are even protecting anymore?  Does it exist?  Did it ever?  I refer you to an interesting piece by Adam Jacobi:

The NCAA violations, however, appear to be "illegal generosity" on a scale the likes of which the NCAA has seen maybe once before. Obviously, that kind of flagrant disregard for NCAA rules and Miami's subsequent standing is also a major problem and something Shapiro had no business doing. But that said, what's wrong about his violations of NCAA rules other than the fact they were violations?

Put it another way: if the NCAA's amateurism rules were such that student-athletes were permitted to receive gifts without condition (i.e. no contracts, no game-fixing, no other quid pro quo legal or otherwise, only charity), then what would be untoward about Shapiro's actions? He gave $1,000 to Tyrone Moss (pictured above) when Moss was struggling with money and had a baby to keep fed. He took players to expensive restaurants and nightclubs. He gave potential recruits money, including some young men who either transferred or never went to Miami in the first place. Presumably, Shapiro did not ask for this money back.

So what exactly was the problem?  Or was it all in our heads all along?

*  *  *

During the wave of coverage of Big Ten Media Days I heard about a certain speech Kirk Cousins gave, and I saw the fawning reaction to it, but I didn't watch it right away.  Only after reading the 11Warriors reaction piece did I go back and watch just what everyone had been talking about.

At first I had a hard time putting into words just what part of Kirk Cousin's speech in front of the Big Ten bigwigs that I wasn't comfortable with.  I liked what DJ at 11W was trying to say, but I think the state of his own football team pushed his tone to a place that is more bitter and reactionary than I think was called for, so I'll take my own stab at it.

Let me get all the disclaimers out of the way: I like Kirk Cousins.  He seems like a gentleman, hard worker, and the kind of guy any school would be proud to have as the face of their program.  I've got a lot of hate in my heart for Michigan State, but I'm not above giving respect to those who I feel earn it.  Furthermore, I don't think there was anything wrong with what he said per se.  It is obvious that he is absolutely delighted with his life, and honestly, who could blame him.  He comes from a great situation and has, through hard work and dedication turned himself into a hero at the school that he loves.  As DJ says: Kirk Cousins is a better human being than most of us trolls on the internet who tear his speech apart.  He has earned his right to speak and have us listen.

However, I think his monologue on "privledge" missed a fairly large point that only now seems clear after the light has been turned on on one of the biggest scandals in college football history, and DJ was right: Privilege is an easy thing to talk about when you are a white upper-middle-class guy from a private high school, who has been provided all the advantages in the world, and worked hard to mold yourself from "barely MAC material" into one of the best QBs in the Big Ten and perhaps the country.  And it is easy to clap for this, to whisper "special", and to heap praise on the young man for upholding a virtue that we all like to believe exists in amateur athletics (this is the same reason Tebow was so universally beloved by old school media types: he reminded them of why they thought they loved college football in the first place).  

Yet all Cousin's speech does is confound the problem by creating a false reality where the real issue isn't that college athletics over the last twenty or thirty years has turned into a full blown professional sport, but that the problems stem from the people who are ungrateful for the gift of an education that they are given, something that has always been a hallowed prize in the eyes of fans and administrators everywhere.  It's why we talk with such reverence about the value of a "Michigan Education" when we speak of recruiting.  We believe it, Brady Hoke obviously believes it, and I am sure some if not most of the kids who come to school to don the winged helmet do to.  But is it enough anymore?

I'm not saying "pay the players".  I don't know if that solves the problem or just opens up a Pandora's box of even more rampant corruption and disparity between the have's and have-not's     in fact, I'm almost positive that would be the case.  I'm just saying that when everyone else is getting paid hand over fist, there is no way that some of that money doesn't trickle over into the hands of young men who really earn it out on the field.

Some of them may not need or want it.  It makes me proud when I watch a video on Mike Martin and see him driving a beat up late-90's Lincoln town car.  It makes me smile when I hear stories of fans approaching Denard Robinson and being absolutely blown away by how nice and humble he is.  And I am a sucker for a "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" story like Cousins.  But I'm not sucker enough to believe that some players want more, and I have a hard time blaming them.

Don't get me wrong, rules are rules.  What is left of the Tat-5 should sit out their games because what they did was in direct violation of an honor code that they signed on to and were fully aware of.  Jim Tressel deserved to get fired because he willfully ignored violations of the rules that govern everyone, and once you begin to disregard the rules that the rest of the world plays by things slowly devolve into anarchy.  AJ Green may have been entitled to the money he earned from selling his jersey by all logic and reason, but the NCAA forbid it and he did his time like he should have.  Reggie Bush was probably worth more than he made in college, as was Cam Newton     but that is besides the point.  Rules are rules.

The point is simply that the reality that we believe exists is no longer the reality we are actually faced with in major college athletics, and it quite possibly never was.  These problems aren't new (SMU, the first U scandal, Fab Five) and judging by the past year, they aren't going anywhere either.  Amateur athletics ceased to be amateur once they started to turn a profit, and now that the money is too voluminous to shoehorn into the guise of "amateurism" any longer, we as a collective of people who worship fall Saturday's are finding it harder and harder to look past what is right in front of us.  Just like the game on the field in 2011 is light years away from what it was during the time of the Ten-Year War, the Four Horsemen, and the rest of the hallowed memories this sport is built on, the game off the field has radically changed.  In an era of impending super-conference doom, team-specific networks, and multi-million dollar contracts for coaches, it is clear that money is the number one voice in "amateur" athletics.  Can you blame the players for listening?

Either money changed everything, or there was nothing virtuous to change in the first place.  Whatever you believe, its time to start redefining our idea of the reality     and the rules we use to govern it     that we are faced with in modern college football.  Time to pull our heads out of the sand before we get buried too deep under the money and corruption that most never see coming or won't accept once it is here (I'm looking at you, cooler poopers).  That Nevin Shapiro exist within the current system could be considered a condemnation of the whole CFB universe: a sign that things have already gone off the deep end and our beloved sport is as dirty as the withered husk of slime and corruption that is professional boxing.  To me, however, the fact that there are still young men like Kirk Cousins, Denard Robinson, and Andrew Luck means that there is still something left worth saving.  But to do that we have to stop lying to ourselves that guys like Nevin Shapiro will go away if we just shout "amateurism" from the rooftops loud enough and proclaim the virtues of the privilege of a good education.  That ship sailed long ago; or maybe we just imagined it in the first place.  Today it is time to accept that for better or worse money is a fact of life in big time college sports, and if we don't come to terms with this and update the system to reflect it, we risk losing those little bits of amateurism that are still worth fighting for.


*(One more thing: of all the problems I have with the direction that the national news media, and its subset: sports media, has taken in the past 25 years, it is comforting to know that true investigative journalism can still find a way to grow up through the cracks like a weed in the sea of mindless opinion and rumormongering that has become the norm.  The work that Charles Robinson and Dan Wetzel have done in the past year is nothing short of phenomenal, and if they aren't recognized for it, that will just be one more black eye on the face of our national news media.  Bravo, gentlemen.  Bravo.)

**(But here are 3000 words anyway.)