In Tuesday's comprehensive Yahoo! Sports report centering around former Miami booster and convicted Ponzi scheme felon Nevin Shapiro, much of the focus has been on the traditional powerhouse Miami football program.
But the effect this scandal has on the immediate future of the men's basketball programs at Miami and Missouri should not be overlooked.
In Columbia, Mizzou athletic director Mike Alden wrote in a text message that the due process of an NCAA investigation will have to occur before anything is done with new hoops coach Frank Haith.
In the wake of allegations raised in an exhaustive investigative piece by Yahoo! Sports, Haith professed his innocence in a statement released by Missouri on Tuesday night. The most damaging accusation of Haith, who left Miami’s head coaching position for Missouri this spring, was that he knew of a $10,000 payment to current senior and then-recruit DeQuan Jones.
His statement: “In response to a recent news article, I can confirm that the NCAA has asked to speak with me regarding the time I spent at the University of Miami. I am more than happy to cooperate with the national office on this issue and look forward to a quick resolution. The NCAA has instructed me not to comment further at this time in order to protect the integrity of their review, so I appreciate your understanding in this matter. The reports questioning my personal interactions with Mr. Shapiro are not an accurate portrayal of my character and per the above I am unable to comment further.’’
If it’s proven that Haith knew about the payment, then he’s done at Missouri. It's simply not survivable -- and it wasn't exactly a popular hire among Tiger faithful anyway. And depending on what (if anything) the NCAA finds, Haith could also get a stronger show-cause penalty to go along with unemployment.
Missouri will have to decide how long it will wait to find out the truth. Schools have all learned a valuable lesson from the Jim O’Brien case at Ohio State. O’Brien was fired before an NCAA investigation, which was spelled out in his contract and as a result the school had to pay him more than $2 million.
Hofstra didn’t wait for any due process in accepting Tim Welsh’s resignation from a DUI just a few weeks after he was hired to coach the Pride in the spring of 2010. A DUI and a major NCAA infraction aren’t the same. But it shows that a new coach without built-in credibility can be easily cut loose.
Haith had actually garnered quite a bit of goodwill during his tenure, especially after he went to Joplin, Mo., with other Tiger representatives to help the town following the deadly tornado. In addition, Mizzou is already recruiting well for 2012 and 2013, and former coach Mike Anderson left Haith with a team ready to compete for the Big 12 title, led by leading scorer Marcus Denmon.
Haith will now have to spend plenty of time repairing his image. His only hope in the near future will be if he’s exonerated in an NCAA investigation, much in the same manner Tim Floyd was after he was accused of paying $1,000 to a handler of O.J. Mayo’s. That charge never stuck and Floyd was free to be hired by his former employer at UTEP.
But Floyd was already out at USC prior to the completion of the investigation, so the Trojans didn’t have to sit and debate what to do over the course of a season after the allegation was made.
Tennessee ended up sticking with Bruce Pearl for an entire season, despite his admission of lying about a cookout at his home and the attendance of juniors in high school, which is against NCAA rules. Pearl went through school and SEC-imposed sanctions last season, but ultimately still lost his job following the NCAA tournament.
But Pearl perhaps lasted longer than he should have because he had gained plenty of capital after six of the greatest seasons in Tennessee basketball history. Haith has no such luxury.
For now, whether Tiger fans like it or not, Missouri has to stick with him -- at least during the short term. Haith is telling Alden and the world that he is innocent, and really, what else is he going to say? But ultimately it's up to the NCAA, its enforcement staff and then the Committee on Infractions whenever this case gets in front of that body.
But if it's all true -- and let's face it, no one can accuse Yahoo! of not doing its homework -- then it becomes yet another in a long line of scandals where the coach sacrifices his career and sometimes his program for a single player. Miami is in the ACC, but it isn’t North Carolina or Duke. It never has been and never will be. And yet the drive to get the best players, or the ones that a coach thinks are a must, never ends. Too often coaches get lost in the moment, believing they need a player at all cost, when in reality they really don’t.
Jones was a big-time recruit and a significant "get" for Haith and the Hurricanes, but -- as happens so many times in these cases -- he hasn't exactly panned out. In his three seasons in Coral Gables, Jones' best season was as a sophomore, when he averaged a mere 5.7 ppg and 2.1 rpg while playing a career-best 16.6 minutes per game. For now, there's no way the Canes can even think about suiting him up until this is resolved by the NCAA.
What a waste.
Connecticut found that out with the pursuit of Nate Miles, a player with known baggage. The Huskies didn’t need him. They still went to the Final Four without him. Yet his recruitment ultimately cost UConn dearly and added a black mark on Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun’s reputation, even with the title run that came afterward. Calhoun will still have to sit three games to start the Big East next season -- all because he became wrapped up in the recruitment of Miles and violations came as a result.
As for Haith, if he is cleared he will have survived a brutal charge. But the question that is unanswered for now is whether Missouri waits to see the outcome of this Haith/Miami case? If the Tigers grow impatient and search for a new head coach, does the team's expected Big 12 title run get derailed? A lot of unanswered questions in Columbia, to be certain.
Meanwhile, Jim Larranaga took the Miami job because he was energized for a new endeavor in a new setting after 15 years at George Mason. He reached the Final Four at GMU with an improbable run in 2006, but simply wanted a new challenge as he crossed into his 60s.
Now granted, besides distractions and constant questions, this particular Hurricanes team won’t be affected by these allegations since the COI almost certainly won’t meet on this case until 2012. The investigation has to be completed, then the notice of allegations and then a response, and then a hearing before a six-week minimum deliberation on a ruling.
Larranaga’s first season will be well over by then. He’ll be into a rebuilding process and the basketball program may not get hit as hard with a new staff. Still, it is sobering for Larranaga to have to deal with a shadow of possible sanctions when he is starting anew in his 60s in the ACC. (Especially after he lost his best player until midseason when Reggie Johnson tore his knee up earlier in the summer.)
For both the Hurricanes and the Tigers, college basketball season begins in November. But on Oct. 30, Missouri is scheduled to play at Missouri Southern for a benefit exhibition game in Joplin. The game is a goodwill gesture with the proceeds going to the rebuild of a community. Whether Haith and his staff are coaching the Tigers or what kind of cloud of suspicion they are under is yet unknown.
And if Missouri thought its conference affiliation was an unknown with the threat of Texas A&M going to the SEC, now it has to decide if it still wants the basketball coach it just hired in April.
As Alden emphasized, the process must unfold. And that's true. But no matter how Haith is handled by the NCAA, the ending is a complete mystery.
And that’s no way to start a season or a career in a new locale.