Opinion

Vultures always swirling around collegiate sports

The first reaction of University of Miami officials to the latest allegations of gross corruption in college football might have been: Consider the source.

Said source in this case is one Nevin Shapiro, a con artist doing a 20-year hitch in a federal clink for a Madoff-type Ponzi scheme estimated at $930 million.

But even a messenger with credibility problems can have a credible message. (Nobody wanted to believe Jose Canseco about steroids in baseball, either.) Whatever Shapiro’s motives now -- resentment, frustration, a belated attack of conscience -- the evidence is compelling that he was in a position to know about corruption in the Miami Hurricanes football program because he was at the center of much of it.

Shapiro, who never attended Miami, seems to have fancied himself one of those swaggering “boosters” -- a term that, despite the generosity of many who have earned the designation honorably, has become a sneering metaphor for the rot eating away at college athletics.

This wasn’t the kind of booster who spends millions to build gyms and stadiums or augment coaches’ salaries -- or, sometimes, grease the palms of talented players. Shapiro comes off as more of a free-spending football groupie who lavished his ill-gotten gains on Miami players and coaches in the form of meals, yacht junkets, bling and hookers.

Miami’s goonish image makes it a natural poster child for the ugly face of college football. One ’Cane team got into a pre-game brawl with Notre Dame in the tunnel. Another rumble involved players kicking, stomping and cleating each other while the team’s radio announcer cheered the melee on the air. (He was later fired.)

But Miami is hardly alone among major programs facing recent NCAA sanction or at least scrutiny. Of the Southeastern Conference’s running string of national champions, only Florida has escaped unflattering attention just in the last few years. The marquee programs at Ohio State and Southern Cal have been hit with major penalties, and neither coach responsible is still at the helm.

NCAA President Mark Emmert said the Miami allegations point to the need for “serious and fundamental change in many critical aspects of college sports.” No kidding.

It should begin with a sweeping overhaul of NCAA rules, the most trivial and idiotic of which are enforced with absurd zeal while flagrant corruption is winked at or ignored.

And while we shouldn’t hold our collective breath, the issue of realistic compensation for athletes in a multibillion-dollar sports entertainment empire is one the lords of college athletics can’t hide from forever. We don’t have to kid ourselves about the “innocence” of 20-year-olds to comprehend the lure of big money in an industry with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of it.

As for the Nevin Shapiros of the world, at least this one is already in prison. More of his ilk ought to be.

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