University of Miami players scapegoated in scandal

OPINION - When this story broke, everyone immediately was looking at whom to point the finger at and blame for such brazen breaking of the rules...

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This week the country has had front row seats to the University of Miami athletic program’s public execution.

Earlier this week Yahoo! Sports’ Charles Robinson broke a story that former Miami booster Nevin Shapiro committed a laundry list of NCAA violations, that included paying football and basketball student-athletes, hosting private parties with prostitutes, and offering an assortment of illegal benefits. The sports world has been buzzing that this is the biggest scandal since SMU’s well-documented improprieties in the 1980s.

SMU received the “death penalty” for its indiscretions, which amounts to the NCAA not allowing a school to compete in a sport for a set amount of time. Many analysts believe a similar fate will be given to Miami.

When this story broke, everyone immediately was looking at whom to point the finger at and blame for such brazen breaking of the rules. There was Shapiro, who knowingly broke the rules by giving out millions of dollars to players. There were the greedy players, who took handouts when they knew it was wrong. There were Miami coaches and officials, who either knew of the wrongdoing, or purposely turned a blind eye so they’d field successful teams.

What’s really lost in this entire story is just how the inevitable punishment is going to affect future players. The players who are 15 and 16 years old in high school right now, working as hard as they can for an opportunity to play collegiate football.

If the NCAA does decide to do the worst — terminate Miami’s football and basketball teams for a set number of years — that would mean hundreds of scholarships gone with it. That’s hundreds of free educations that probably would’ve went to athletes from poor upbringings. Those players are missing out on an opportunity to go to a higher institution for free.

And that’s the real shame of this whole issue. The story said that Shapiro gave 72 players illegal benefits from 2002-2010. That’s certainly a lot, but that still leaves hundreds of players that didn’t receive benefits, and were playing at the school for love of the game and an opportunity to earn an education.

The people that will ultimately feel the effects of the NCAA’s ruling will be individuals that had nothing to do with the scandal. It’s highly unlikely the players that took money will get punished at all. Shapiro is behind bars and really has nothing to lose from confessing to the things he did.

The ones to blame here are the adults in powerful positions that knew better. The school presidents, and athletic directors and coaches that use players to keep their jobs and earn higher salaries. When this entire story plays out, some of them will certainly be punished, but others, who have already left the school, will probably get away unscathed.

With Miami’s scandal, and previous scandals at schools like the University of North Carolina and Ohio State, it clearly shows the system is broken. In Miami’s case, the stories about some players receiving Cadillac Escalades and others receiving money for rims and jewelry is indefensible; they shouldn’t have taken the money for that and knew what they were doing was wrong. But can we really expect 18 and 19-year-olds who grew up poor not to take money from adults who are supposed to be looking out for their best interest?

The Miami scandal sheds light on a bigger issue that continues to get worse as college athletics become bigger business. There are plenty of other universities that did similar things that Miami did before this scandal broke. There will be plenty of universities that will do similar things after the smoke clears on this case too.

And through all of this, the player’s are the ones getting used. Especially the players that aren’t the stars, that aren’t getting the bags full of money, and are simply playing the game they’ve loved their whole lives in hopes of getting a free education and learning how to be an adult.

Some analysts and fans have enjoyed seeing Miami get exposed on a national stage. Miami has been a lightning rod for criticism since the late 80s and early 90s, when “the U” featured brash, cocky African-American players that beat opponents and let them and the world know how good they were. Back then, there was talk that illegal benefits were given to players and those teams had their own Shapiro in 2 Live Crew rapper Luke Campbell.

Maybe it’s the feelings towards these type of cocky athletes that have made some overjoyed by Miami’s downfall. Which is sad. There’s nothing good about what will ultimately come out of this. There are hundreds of kids that looked up to Miami athletes, dreaming one day of donning the orange and green themselves. The kids that dream of being stars on the field, and bettering themselves off of it.

Hopefully the NCAA and fans will realize that as bad as this scandal is, it would be even worse if we make the innocent suffer for it.