Accepting Evidence at Face Value: You know we don’t do that
Yahoo! sports comprehensive investigation of Miami athletics program and booster Nevin Shapiro has appeared to unearth rampant cheating throughout the program. And truthfully, there is plenty of smoke here to yell fire.
Yet, while Yahoo! patted itself on the back for its thorough investigation, a deeper dig into their evidence shows much cloudier picture, one that has largely been ignored. Yahoo!’s scathing article claimed: In an effort to substantiate the booster’s claims, Yahoo! Sports audited approximately 20,000 pages of financial and business records from his bankruptcy case, more than 5,000 pages of cell phone records, multiple interview summaries tied to his federal Ponzi case, and more than 1,000 photos. Nearly 100 interviews were also conducted with individuals living in six different states. In the process, documents, photos and 21 human sources – including nine former Miami players or recruits, and one former coach – corroborated multiple parts of Shapiro’s rule-breaking.
And there is plenty of strong evidence to support many of their claims. That’s what hit the news wires. That’s what every sports site jumped on. Yahoo! has tons of evidence.
Except they don’t for many of their accusations. There is plenty of blatantly false information and misleading information in these claims. Several questionable items were used as proof, some of which simple fact checking would have disproven:
- On Robert Marve’s allegation page, Yahoo! shows a September credit card statement with a bill at Cameo night club, which Shapiro alleges that he took UM players to after a 2008 loss to FSU. A simple fact check from Yahoo! would have shown that UM and FSU played in October that year, therefore disproving Shapiro’s version of events.
- A canceled check to American High School in Hialeah, which Shapiro claims was made to attract Olivier Vernon to Miami. How would Miami even know about this at all? Shapiro claimed he cut the check before even meeting Vernon, yet Yahoo! has no problem connecting the dots here.
- On Jerome McDougle’s page, a photo is labeled as being taken before the kickoff to the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. The photo was clearly taken in the Orange Bowl. On top of that, the 2003 Miami-Ohio State Fiesta Bowl was an all-time classic game. Surely someone on Yahoo!’s staff should have some recollection of that game and be aware that Miami wore green in the Fiesta Bowl, and not the orange jersey that McDougle is wearing. This might seem like a minor point, but it is important because of Yahoo!’s reliance on “sources that corroborate” Shapiro’s claims. When those sources corroborate events that are provably untrue, shouldn’t it call into question many of Yahoo!’s claims?
- Some of these claims have no evidence at all. Frank Gore’s accusation page provides no evidence at all, just an accusation from Shapiro. The same goes for Carlos Joseph, Vegas Franklin, Carl Walker and Andrew Johnson, among others.
- Several accusations are only backed up by telephone records of text messages. Now, this would be significant, if not for the fact that most of Shapiro’s cell phone records were expunged and most of the text exchanges being used are between Shapiro and ex-players Several Years after they graduated. So, that information is actually COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT.
- Many of the accusations are backed up by dubious credit card statements. Essentially, Shapiro said, “I bought Player X dinner at a restaurant”, then provides Yahoo! with a credit card statement that shows a charge at said restaurant. Without any evidence that players were even there and given that Shapiro would routinely drop $1000s in clubs and restaurants without players present, why is there any weight being given to this? We expect him to recall each charge on his credit card from 8 years ago? As noted above, he clearly fabricated one such instance after an alleged loss in a game that had yet to be played versus FSU.
- Which brings us to the source of this information. Yahoo! released another article detailing exactly who Nevin Shapiro is, which is Bernie Madoff by another name. This begs 2 questions: (1) If Bernie Madoff (someone much more nationally famous than Nevin Shapiro) made these accusations, would Yahoo! have even run the article? and (2) wouldn’t it be relevant to include, in the accusatory article, more than a sentence fragment about the accuser? A University of Miami booster, incarcerated for his role in a $930 million Ponzi scheme was the extent of information given about the witness that was providing this testimony. In a separate article, Yahoo! detailed that Shapiro is in fact a sociopath with a temper, who admits to being jaded by UM turning its back on him and admits to being out for revenge (In an interview with local CBS Affiliate’s Jim Berry, Shapiro openly hoped that Miami would get the death penalty). Shapiro made millions of dollars where the chief skill he employed was being a pathological liar. How is that information not included in this article?
Given all that, isn’t it reasonable to assume that unless there is outside evidence independent of what is listed above, Yahoo! shouldn’t hurl those accusations? Wouldn’t that be a reasonable standard? I guess not, because as was noted, in some instances, Yahoo! had absolutely no evidence other than Shapiro’s word and still ran with it. In fact, if you trim out the dubious evidence, the list of 72 players/athletes being accused is dropped by more than half. And that is still counting the accusations which involve one source “confirming Miami players were at a club” type of accusations, which are also dubious.
So, where does this leave us? Yahoo! padded their numbers. How you want to determine what is relevant and worthy of accusation is up to the reader. Clearly, though, Yahoo! should at the very least correct inaccurate information and remove all accusations against players where the only evidence they have is Shapiro’s word, which is worth absolutely nothing. Pages like this one for Vegas Franklin should be removed. If Yahoo! chose to take a more narrow, “fair” view, and took a prosecutor-like “don’t charge it if you can’t prove it” stance, the number would likely drop below 10. But 72 players received improper benefits has a lot better ring to it than 10 players.
Vultures Are Circling
Unfortunately, not many people will take a critical eye to Yahoo!’s accusations the way I have. Outside of South Florida, few people know who Nevin Shapiro is, and know about his psychosis. To be honest, had these accusations been lodged against any other program, I would have assumed they are true as well. Of course, the vultures have swooped in.
What I don’t understand about articles like this and this is why they take an accusatory tone towards Donna Shalala for accepting a donation from a local businessman who at the time, was not seen to be dirty. He duped 100s of people out of millions of dollars, so would a school president really know that the money is being swindled in an illegal ponzi scheme? Of course not…it’s a red herring, but it is a way to show “it goes all the way to the president”, when in reality, what went to the president was a donation. Instead of seizing on that, why don’t these writers sift through Yahoo!’s evidence in the same manner that I did and come to some sort of conclusion on the evidence being presented? I am certainly voicing an opinion on what is and isn’t relevant, but Yahoo! clearly took a very flippant attitude towards listing what constituted proof.
Where do we go now
What’s interesting about Yahoo! padding their numbers is they didn’t have to. I am wondering if Yahoo! felt they needed to make a big splash this time. Investigative journalism is expensive. Yahoo! recently conducted probes into UCONN basketball and Oregon football. Those probes were largely ignored. By sighting 72 players versus 10, they were sure to generate a big splash.
This is unfortunate for Miami in 2 ways:
- It’s out there now. Rampant, provable cheating. Yahoo! has proof (even though in most cases, that proof is tenuous and/or non-existent, that will get buried and not mentioned). And the NCAA doesn’t need actual proof, just suspicions. Guilty in the court of public opinion, with the NCAA looking to prove a point (with a new get tough stance), the die is already cast. This is going to get very ugly.
- Even without Yahoo!’s padding of their numbers and inclusion of flimsy evidence, there are some teeth to a lot of their accusations. The stuff on Devin Hester and Vince Wilfork alone is enough to bring hefty penalties. And that doesn’t even get into the coaching aspect, where several coaches appear to be involved. Yahoo! didn’t need 72 players, they could have simply presented the 5 most egregious cases and brought down the facade of cleanliness ringing the Coral Gables campus. It wouldn’t have gotten the headlines, but even if the NCAA chooses to ignore the largely circumstantial and non-existent information, there is enough evidence here to really drive a nail in the Hurricanes’ coffin.
Unfortunately, the hammer is coming. And deservedly so. This was blatant and stupid. Shapiro is a pathological liar, a sociopath who once partially blinded a bar owner because said owner stopped him from sneaking into the bar and therefore hurt Shapiro’s “reputation”, and an attention whore who sees this as his last opportunity to make headlines. But, there is enough proof here to convict on egregious violations. Some ‘Canes fans will say this goes on everywhere, and maybe it does. But, we have entered a climate where:
- The NCAA has vowed to crackdown on cheating.
- Miami clearly created some violations involving the coaching staff.
On top of that, Miami is the perfect sacrificial lamb. It’s a big name school that doesn’t make money. The NCAA can drop the hammer while not hurting their bottom line. It’s a win-win for them.
For the ‘Canes, they need to be compliant going forward. Comply with the investigation, and impose harsh penalties on themselves, hoping the NCAA doesn’t come down with a program killing Death Penalty. When it was imposed on SMU, it killed their program, and people claimed it would never be used again. That will surely be put to the test. This process could take months or years to play out, and while it does, the only thing to do is to hold your breadth and hope that each fall, we at least have a uniform to cheer for.