Q&A: Miami athletic director Blake James

Miami is ready to move full speed ahead now that the NCAA investigation into rules violations is over. So how does Miami do that? And what are the biggest lessons learned throughout this three-year process?

I had a chance to speak with athletic director Blake James on Tuesday and get his answers to those questions and more. Here is what he had to say.

What was your initial reaction when you read the report and saw the ruling?

BJ: It was in line with what I expected. Obviously there were some things that we had done wrong, there were some significant consequences that we had put in place, there are some significant consequences we’ll still serve. It’s a very serious case and one we didn’t take lightly. Credit to President [Donna] Shalala and the tremendous leadership she gave throughout the entire process. While it was good to be to the end, you have to recognize the significance of everything that happened to get to this point, including the consequences that were served and that will be served.

You said earlier in a statement that the athletic department has taken many steps to ameliorate concerns raised as part of the investigation. What are those?

BJ: The biggest one being the educational component from the compliance perspective, not only of our student-athletes, coaches, administration and staff but that of our fans, alums, donors, just in the community. It’s something that we feel we need to do at an even higher level and it’s something we’ll continue to push with all our constituency groups, the importance of understanding compliance and being vigilant about it and recognizing everybody has a responsibility to it.

For the first time in more than three years, there is no NCAA a cloud hanging over the program. What happens next?

BJ: We continue to go forward as a program, learning from the past, doing the things we need to do from a program perspective and from an institutional perspective to avoid anything like this from happening again. At the same time to support the efforts and initiatives we have in place to achieve excellence, whether it’s winning ACC championships or graduating our student-athletes or developing them as leaders in life, we have to continue to focus our efforts in those areas. To the credit of our coaches, the investigation didn’t stop us from doing what we needed to do. You can’t say enough about the job that Al Golden and Jim Larranaga have done with their programs and the young men in their programs, to get them to buy into the vision and to get them to achieve the things that they have achieved, whether it’s an ACC championship to the great graduation rates in our program to the accomplishments we had with our football program, qualifying for the ACC championship last year and sitting at 6-0. All those things while we had this hanging out there, you have to give a lot of credit to the great leaders we have in both Al and Jim.

What do you make of the timing of this announcement, and is it a distraction with the football team sitting unbeaten at No. 7 in the BCS standings?

BJ: I think it’s a relief. Our guys are focused on beating Wake Forest. This is a big game for us. It’s a situation where we need to focus all our efforts on beating Wake Forest. For those of us who have to deal with this case as we have done over the last three years, that’s where our energies are focused. I want to let our guys focus on Wake Forest because that’s something they need to do. They need to be ready to play another ACC opponent that’s coming in here looking for a victory just like we’re looking for a victory. That’s where their focus is and that’s where I want their focus to be. That and their academics.

What is the biggest lesson learned throughout this whole process?

BJ: We have to do a better job of recognizing things as a program and communicating our compliance expectations and needs as a program. It’s a situation where I recognize we have to do a better job educating our student-athletes, our coaches, our fans, everyone involved. At the end of the day, we have to have people understand the importance of being in compliance with the association’s rules. There isn’t a guy out there that wants to sit out a game and we’ve had a number of them who had to do it because of these violations. There’s not a guy out there who wants to sit out a bowl game or an ACC championship opportunity because of these types of violations. We want everyone to recognize the actions of a few can have a tremendous impact on a program. That’s what we’ve had to deal with for the last three years. All of us have been under that cloud of uncertainty. To get to today is a relief and one we’re looking forward to moving full speed ahead.

Having said all that, how do you prevent something like this from happening again?

BJ: Education, communication. It’s getting everyone to understand that everyone’s wearing the compliance hat. We can’t look at the compliance staff and say hey, it’s their responsibility. We have look at it and say it’s all our responsibility whether it’s a donor at a restaurant or at a club, wherever it is. If it’s student-athletes, trainers, academic advisors, whoever it is we have to all recognize the compliance hat needs to be on at all times. That’s something that’s important that we understand going forward. I think it is but it’s something I’ll keep pounding home because we need to make sure that it is.

When you made the decision to impose the postseason ban for a second straight year, did you have a feeling that might be enough for the NCAA?

BJ: At that time I didn’t. I hoped. I didn’t have a feeling that was what we needed to do until I had a chance to read the report and sit through the Committee on Infractions hearing. When I left Indianapolis, my feeling was that we had done what we needed to do in terms of the bowls. I was pleased to see that.

A lot of people are saying the NCAA did not punish Miami enough. Is this ruling a “win” for Miami?

BJ: I would say to those that view this as light or as a win or however they look at it to stand in front of a group of 115 young men and tell them they’re not playing in an ACC championship or a bowl or to sit down an individual and tell them they’re not going to be able to play in a game or in X number of games, or to have the cloud of uncertainty over your program and have all the speculation and stories and the things that go on while that’s sitting out there to deal with, it was significant. That’s why we took the significant steps we did. Nine scholarships is significant in football. Three scholarships is significant in basketball. Taking it as seriously as we did from the start put us in the position where a lot of the sanctions are now in the past. We’ve done the things we need to do to move full speed ahead as soon as we got to this point. I think we’re there. We recognize there’s a lot of lessons we learned that will continue on with us and we’ve still got some significant sanctions left that we’ll have to deal with.