Yahoo! Sports and Charles Robinson have caught the University of Miami red handed, or so they claim. After harassing a convicted felon and pathological liar into “spilling the beans” (Yahoo! claims that they spent months trying to get him to talk until he finally caved), Yahoo! accused UM of massive violations spanning nearly a decade involving 72 players. Yahoo! claimed to comb through a mountain of data to corroborate claims made by a person who they and everyone else have absolutely no reason to trust. In fact, they have an absolute reason to distrust him, given that he is an admitted liar with an admitted motivation to lie in this instance. Yes, they combed through mountains of data. And then they used that data to build a case which upon inspection is a house of cards.
I have no idea what is and is not true here. I can only go off the evidence presented by Yahoo! This is not an attempt to prove or disprove violations. Instead, I am simply examining the evidence that Yahoo! presented to corroborate their claims. And what I find is a shocking lack of journalistic integrity, as Yahoo! repeatedly chose to go for style over substance.
Before I delve into Yahoo!’s evidence, I think it is important to provide some facts here. Even if all of Yahoo!’s allegations are 100% true, the first reported accusation occurred in 2002. Miami’s football team was last sanctioned in the mid-90s, starting in 1996 (Miami lost 31 scholarships over 3 years and a postseason bowl ban, very similar to what USC got for the Reggie Bush scandal). NCAA Bylaws are clear: The ‘death penalty’ is a phrase used by media to describe the most serious NCAA penalties possible. It is not a formal NCAA term. It applies only to repeat violators and can include eliminating the involved sport for at least one year, the elimination of athletics aid in that sport for two years and the school relinquishing its Association voting privileges for a four-year period. A school is a repeat violator if a second major violation occurs within five years of the start date of the penalty from the first case. The cases do not have to be in the same sport. I added the bolding because it is important to note that given the death penalty ONLY applies to repeat violators and that for Miami to be classified as a repeat violator, the NCAA would have to prove allegations occurred in 2001 and before, something Yahoo! doesn’t allege and a timeframe in which Nevin Shapiro wasn’t even a UM booster. Therefore, this case isn’t even death penalty eligible because of the football program, which is kind of an important point that no one seems to want to make.
Now, the NCAA does have a back door if they really want to go that route. The UM baseball team was put on probation in 2003 (for unrelated matters, long since forgotten). The NCAA could use that probation to claim repeat violator status, although it would be a HUGE stretch given that the charges are completely unrelated. The NCAA would have to release a report saying, “Given this widespread proof against the football team and given the baseball teams violations that occurred in the 90s [the violations occurred in 1995 and 1998-99 and the penalties started in 2003], we are invoking repeat violator status”. Obviously, what the NCAA ultimately does is unknown, but I do think it was important to contextualize what the NCAA would have to do to actually give UM the death penalty.
Back to Yahoo!..you saw the salacious headlines, but very rarely is their teeth behind the accusations. The 2 things being seized upon to differentiate this from other instances of cheating are the abortion and the claim of rampant, widespread impropriety by 72 Hurricanes players.
The abortion claim is an absurd accusation given the evidence that Yahoo! presents. In fact, here is the entirety of the claim:
In one instance, Shapiro described taking a player to the Pink Pony strip club and paying for a dancer to engage in sex with the athlete. In the ensuing weeks, Shapiro said the dancer called one of his security providers and informed him that the player had gotten her pregnant during the incident. Shapiro said he gave the dancer $500 to have an abortion performed, without notifying the player of the incident.
“I was doing him a favor,” the booster said. “That idiot might have wanted to keep [the baby].”
Due to the sensitivity of the allegation, Yahoo! Sports has chosen not to name the player allegedly involved.
The dirty little reporting trick Yahoo! played time and again was to claim they used evidence to corroborate Shapiro’s claims. And, in some instances, they absolutely did. But, in instances (as with the abortion claim) where Yahoo! had no evidence other than the word of the felon, they printed the accusation anyway. This allowed Yahoo! to claim that they had fully vetted claims that they had not. In the alleged abortion incident, not even the player would know of his involvement (Shapiro claimed to have never informed the player), yet Yahoo! felt it was fit to print that accusation.
72 players…not really, but 72 sounds a lot stronger than 12
One of the shocking things about Yahoo!’s reporting is that they were apparently willing to print any accusation a known liar with an admitted vendetta made. Did they actually print every accusation? I really don’t know. But I do know they chose to print several accusations that their “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” did NOT corroborate. And how do I know that? Because I simply clicked through the accusations and read the evidence. Why didn’t anyone else do this? I suspect Urban Meyer might have. That’s why he went on Sportscenter and rather than pile on with talks of the death penalty, instead chose to point out that the allegations were just that, and that the source was not trustworthy.
The main point of contention, the reason why the national media is calling for the death penalty, the reason Miami is being compared to SMU, is that Yahoo! cataloged 72 players involved. That’s a huge number. Almost all pundits preface their comments by saying, ‘if true” and then launch into an attack that assumes truth. College Football News’ Russ Mitchell exclaimed, “First things first – if there’s any doubt that Yahoo! Sports has cemented its position as the preeminent sports investigative reporting organization of this time, leave it at the door.”
Well, I will pick up those doubts and bring them back in the house. Because, as you scrutinize Yahoo!’s claims in the same manner that Yahoo! failed to scrutinize Shapiro’s claims, you will find a pattern of lazy journalism and in some cases willful deceit. Rather than writing “if true” and then assuming truth, all you have to do is click on the player’s names and read the specific accusations. Anyone can do it, which is why it is so shocking that no one in the national media has pointed the finger at Yahoo! The numbers are ugly:
- On 5 occasions, Yahoo! printed accusations against players with no evidence whatsoever other than Shapiro’s word. You don’t believe me? Tell me what the proof is against Vegas Franklin?
- On 19 occasions, Yahoo! printed an accusation against a player and corroborated that accusation with a credit card charge. Yahoo! had NO WAY of actually linking those charges to the players other than Shapiro’s word. This is akin to me telling a reporter that I bought a TV for Tim Tebow in 2008, and as proof, I have my Discover Card statement with a charge at Best Buy. Except in Yahoo!’s case, their use of this non-evidence is even worse because the source is a known liar who is admittedly trying to get the school in trouble. This is particularly damning because Yahoo! used this method to claim they had a financial paper trail corroborating Shapiro’s story. They don’t in these instances. Tell me what is linking Jo Jo Nicolas to the charge on the credit card statement other than Shapiro’s word?
- On 11 occasions, Yahoo! levied accusations against players and backed it up with evidence that NOT ONLY DOES NOT PROVE THE ALLEGED VIOLATION, BUT ISN’T EVEN A VIOLATION ITSELF. As an example, Yahoo! accuses Kenny Phillips of accepting, “Food, drinks and entertainment at Shapiro’s $2.7 million Miami Beach home, the booster’s $6 million Miami Beach mansion and the $4 million Miami Beach home of the booster’s ex-girlfriend, Mimi Menoscal. Meals at Miami-area restaurants. Entertainment on Shapiro’s $1.6 million yacht.” The proof? 33 calls or texts between Phillips and Shapiro between May and December of 2009. Not only does this evidence have NOTHING to do with the accusations Yahoo! made (of which they offer no direct evidence), but the phone records are from AFTER Phillips left Miami. Yahoo!’s smoking gun is 33 phone contacts between an NFL player and a booster.
- On 2 occasions, Yahoo! accused athletes that have already been cleared by the NCAA and are currently playing at other schools. Of particular note, the 2 players (Robert Marve and Arthur Brown) had some of the strongest evidence against them, yet have already been cleared, which certainly calls into question just how provable Yahoo!’s allegations are. Again, that’s outside the scope of the article, but clearly accusing cleared players is dubious. They weren’t cleared at the time, but now that they are, the record should be amended.
- On 3 occasions, Yahoo! accused players who allegedly committed identical violations to players that have been cleared. As an example, Ray-Ray Armstrong was accused of committing violations with current UF player Andre Debose. Debose has been cleared by the NCAA. Again, at the time of the allegations, there was no way of knowing that the NCAA had cleared these players, but the record of Debose (and the other cleared players) should be updated and the record of uncleared players that are accused of the same thing as cleared players should be amended to reflect that.
- On 14 occasions, Yahoo! backed up a report with 1 source. This is a little murkier, but you have a pathological liar, and one source…that is hardly strong evidence. Especially in the way that it was used. What do I mean the way it was used? One source claims to have seen Aldarius Johnson, Adewale Ojomo, Marcus Forston, Sean Spence, and Marcus Robinson eating dinner at Benihana and partying at a strip club. Using only one source is somewhat shady, but using one source to finger 5 PLAYERS is outright ridiculous. Basically, if one source is incorrect or misremembered or got a date wrong, you have wrongfully fingered 5 players.
- On 4 occasions, Yahoo! used photos as evidence. Some of that photographic evidence has been disproven (a photo claimed to be taken in 2003 was actually taken in 2005, after the players had gone on to the NFL), and most of these photos don’t constitute a violation by themselves. Take the case of Marcus Maxey. That photo is not a violation by itself. You would need more evidence and details to prove a violation. But Yahoo! accused him and others anyway.
- On 3 occasions, Yahoo! backed up their claim with multiple sources. This is where you enter a gray area. No physical proof, but a lot of hearsay. I am fine with Yahoo! including these accusations, to be honest, but it isn’t a slam dunk.
- On 12 occasions, Yahoo! aligned sources with other evidence to back up their claims. While not constituting proof (which isn’t the purpose of this article anyway), Yahoo! should certainly feel comfortable making those accusations.
That’s a lot to digest, obviously. So, I put it in this handy chart:
An interesting note here is that the 12 players where Yahoo! might actually be able to irrefutably prove something committed those alleged violations several years ago, when Paul Dee was Athletic Director and Larry Coker was head coach. Those players have long since left the program. How is that for a headliner grabber? “Yahoo! has strong evidence that Miami had 12 players commit violations 5 years ago and 2 Head Coaches and 2 Athletic Directors ago.” Doesn’t sound as good as 72 players over a decade, does it?
But why is it that, despite Shapiro claiming to have the run of the program for a decade until he was indicted in 2010, there are very few accusations over the last 4 years and those accusations are flimsy? There could be an explanation for that, as you will see in the next section.
The Current 12
Yesterday, headlines screamed out that Miami practiced with the full squad. How could they not suspend the players? Probably because the 12 current players have flimsy and sometimes absolutely no evidence against them. They fall into the categories of:
- Non-linked credit card statements (3): Travis Benjamin, JoJo Nicolas and Jacory Harris*.
- Evidence of non-violations (3): Jacory Harris*, Vaughn Telemaque and Olivier Vernon*.
- Accused of things other players are cleared of (3): Ray-Ray Armstong, Dyron Dye and Olivier Vernon*.
- One Source (5): Aldarius Johnson, Adewale Ojomo, Marcus Forston, Sean Spence, and Marcus Robinson
*Olivier Vernon and Jacory Harris appear twice.
Why is Yahoo! accusing 12 current players on seemingly flimsy evidence? Couldn’t they find hard evidence against at least 1 current player? I don’t know. If they had hard evidence, they would provide it, I am sure. But, there is another reason why Yahoo! might have had trouble nailing the current players.
Local reporters are digging as well. And apparently former ‘Cane Coach Randy Shannon was particularly vigilant in trying to keep players away from boosters, particularly Nevin Shapiro. I will not quote directly from Canesport, since it is a pay site, but I will say they can confirm that Shannon, upon his hiring, threatened to fire anyone on his staff that associated with Shapiro, repeatedly told his players to stay away from him, and even employed spies to make sure that there was compliance. The full article is available here: http://miami.rivals.com/content.asp?CID=1253198.
The Sun Sentinel’s Shandel Richardson, in addition to unearthing claims that Shapiro (who is writing a book and stands to profit from UM’s downfall) attempted to extort former UM players, corroborated Canesport’s reporting.
“Everybody knew to stay away from that guy,” the player said. “Coach Shannon hated him. He told us to stay away from that guy. [Shapiro] hated coach Shannon. That why he wasn’t around the program like he was earlier.”
Are those sources better or worse than Yahoo!’s sources? I don’t know. But I do know Yahoo!’s main source couldn’t possibly have less credibility. And I also know that a headline claiming, “Yahoo! found some old allegations, apparently Randy Shannon worked hard and largely succeeded in cleaning up the program” just doesn’t have a lot of bite to it.
Al Golden claims to know very little about the investigation. He is barred by the NCAA from discussing the investigation with his players. But, I am sure the administration would clue him in and suspend players if they felt the 5-month old NCAA investigation showed violations by the 12. And maybe that will happen, especially since it’s the easy thing to do. Sacrifice the 12 kids, show that you are getting tough. But Golden was defiant instead:
“Until we hear of an infraction or that we did break a rule everybody is practicing,” Golden said. “If it is determined that somebody broke rules, certainly that will be first dealt with from a University standpoint, from an eligibility standpoint.” He added that “This is a very complicated issue, obviously, because of the source and allegations.”
Ah, the source. The sociopath. The guy who lies so well he made $930 million simply by turning lying into a business. The guy who admits he has a vendetta against UM. The guy who admits that he wants UM to get the death penalty. The guy whose accusations Yahoo! printed even in instances where their investigation failed to corroborate those accusations.
Again, I am not trying to prove or disprove these allegations. But the mountains of evidence here DOES NOT back up any claims against the 12 current players. For Yahoo!’s story to have maximum effect, however, they had to tie it to the current team, and they tried to do that, despite the lack of actionable evidence. Yahoo! most likely should not have accused any of these 12 players, given what we know.
Another damning part of Yahoo!’s case is the coach and staff involvement. That obviously raised the level of complicity greatly from a UM standpoint. Since there are few coaches and staff involved, we can take these on case-by-case basis. There are allegations against 2 sports:
- Clint Hurtt: This is some of Yahoo!’s finest work. Not only do they nail a coach for an illegal interest-free loan, but in a shocking turn of events, they have actual, relevant financial information (a canceled check). Yahoo! was CLEARLY justified in making this accusation.
- Aubrey Hill: This is simply a case of he said, convicted felon said. Yahoo! claims to have one source that corroborates an illegal recruiting visit. Hill denies the accusation and one of the players involved, Andre Debose, has already been cleared by the NCAA. This looks flimsy looking at the overall evidence.
- Joe Pannunzio: This is really an interesting case, because Yahoo! claims to have 3 sources that can confirm that Pannunzio took Matt Patchan’s family to meet with Shapiro on a recruiting trip. Patchan has already been cleared by the NCAA. Why is this interesting? Because Shapiro refused to finger Pannunzio. Given that Yahoo! made a habit of taking everything that Shapiro said at face value, it’s a bit ridiculous to, in this one instance, when it benefits their narrative, launch an accusation without Shapiro’s collaboration. Obviously, Shapiro is a professional liar with a motive, so his refusal to comment is certainly no defense. Buy Yahoo! is not being consistent when they accuse someone like Howard Clark of violations solely based on Shapiro’s word, then turn around and accuse a coach of violations when Shapiro won’t back those accusations up,
- Jeff Stoutland: Yahoo! has multiple sources placing Stoutland at Shapiro’s home on a recruiting visit. Stoutland has not responded, and Yahoo! was certainly justified in making this accusation at the time of the writing of this article. Given that the recruit involved, Matt Patchan, has been cleared, they might want to revisit this accusation.
- Joey Corey and Ralph Nogueras: I lumped these 2 together because the allegations and evidence are the same. Yahoo! has no evidence here other than text and phone records proving Corey and Nogueras knew Shapiro. All the allegations of wrongdoing against Corey and Nogueras are completely uncorroborated.
- Sean Allen: This is a fascinating case study in Yahoo! building a solid looking, brick house, which on closer inspection appears to be made out of jello. Yahoo! backed up some of Shapiro’s claims with the infamous “one source”. Interestingly, rather than offering “no comment”, Allen responded, “I emphatically deny any wrongdoing and am fully confident that the truth will soon be clear.” So, it is a case of he said, convicted felon said, like with Aubrey Hill? No, because Yahoo! unearthed a long business relationship between Allen and Shapiro. Shapiro makes a ton of accusations about Allen participating in and witnessing violations. Allen denies them. But Yahoo! appears to have a smoking gun, checks and payments totaling over $92, 000 paid from Shapiro to Allen between April 2008 and January 2009. Caught, red handed, except for the little matter of Allen’s association with Miami. Allen was employed at Miami from 2001 to 2005, and again from August 2009 to present. Here is his full bio from the Yahoo! report: Allen was a student manager for the Hurricanes from 2001 to 2005. From 2005 to 2007, he worked for sports agency ventures for both Nevin Shapiro (Axcess Sports for nine months) and Luther Campbell (Luke Sports & Entertainment for 14 months). After 16 months in the private sector, Allen again returned to work for Shapiro for six months as a consultant on a potential sports representation firm called “The Players Agency.” He returned to Miami in August 2009, and has been on staff as an assistant equipment manager since that date. If you look at the timeline, Allen had no association whatsoever with Miami when Yahoo! can corroborate. payments. It also appears (although Yahoo!’s timeline is a bit ambiguous), that some of the payments were made when Allen worked for Shapiro. At most, Yahoo! simply proved that Shapiro gave a private citizen money a full 3-4 years after his association with UM ended, and depending on the timeline, they might simply be providing evidence that an employer paid an employee. The smoking gun is a water pistol here, as Yahoo! once again presented a litany of financial documentation that did not only not prove a violation, but whose inclusion is completely disingenuous given that it is meant to intentionally mislead, implying that the documents prove payments were made to a member of Miami’s staff when they do nothing of the sort.
- Frank Haith: Full disclosure…I have 7 years of evidence detailing violations Frank Haith made against the game of basketball. None of these are punishable by the NCAA, and Missouri fans aren’t laughing (to all Missouri fans, I am sorry for what is about to happen to your program). On to the serious stuff, Yahoo! accuses Haith (and one of his assistants, detailed below) of the most serious allegation alleged in the entire article…funneling $10,000 to Daquan Jones. Haith denies the accusation. And the proof? Well, if Haith was a player, you would place him firmly in the “Evidence of non-violations” and “Non-linked credit card statements” categories. They have no evidence that Haith actually knew about the money. They provide a credit card statement, phone records and witness testimony that Haith had dinner and went to strip clubs with Shapiro, none of which is a violation. Yahoo! does not attempt to prove that Haith knew of or funneled $10,000.
- Jorge Fernandez: Accused of improper contact with an AAU coach. Yahoo! has pictures, they look legit. Yahoo! was justified in printing these accusations.
- Jake Morton: There are 2 main allegations against Morton. The first is similar to the accusations against Fernandez, and the proof is similar and the accusation equally well vetted. The more serious accusation is that Morton returned $10,000 that Shapiro had paid to Daquan Jones. There is one source backing this up. No other evidence. It’s hard to prove a cash payment. But it is easy to accuse someone of making one, which happened here.
The overall tally is that out of the 10 coaches Yahoo! accused, they had quality evidence against 3.
What does it all mean
As I stated initially, nearly a million hours ago if you bothered to read the entire article (if you did, I sympathize, but no, you can’t have your 4 hours back), my goal here was not to disprove the allegations. I have absolutely no way of doing that. And truth be told, these allegations might mostly be true. The NCAA is conducting an investigation that is already in its 5th month (and which is why the NCAA has been able to clear some of the accused players already). Maybe they have more and better evidence than Yahoo!. They also might uncover new allegations that Yahoo! hasn’t even mentioned. Maybe they will invoke the Death Penalty, and a generation of Hurricane fans that have no idea that Miami has a baseball team will learn who Lazaro Collazo is. I don’t know these things.
Instead, I wanted to take a critical look at how Yahoo! supported their allegations. They claimed to have done thorough research, they claimed to have corroborated all of their accusations, and most everyone has taken them at their word. The truth is they did not corroborate a VAST MAJORITY of their allegations. Keep in mind who the whistle blower is here. This is a man who is not only a proven effective liar, but has a motive to fabricate things. For Yahoo! to allege something, they should require direct proof that the allegations are true. If you can’t prove it, don’t print it should be the mantra for any reporter accusing something (be it an institution or a person) of anything, especially when there is every reason to doubt the accuser. They certainly shouldn’t have taken Shapiro’s word for it.
And yet on many, many occasions, they did just that. When their exhaustive research found no evidence of the infraction, no evidence of any infraction, no evidence tying the player to the allegation, they made those allegations anyway. In other instances, they proved that the players knew a prominent booster (not a violation), but had no evidence that a violation took place. They made those allegations anyway. In other cases, they had 1 witness that says they saw something 1 time. Dubious claim, they should probably at least find another witness since a liar and one witness is hardly proof. They made those allegations anyway. And yes, in other instances, they have strong evidence, certainly worthy of allegation, and obviously those allegations were made.
But the issue here is intellectual dishonesty. It is my opinion that Yahoo! intentionally misrepresented information, made allegations that their evidence did not corroborate, listed out severe allegations then provided evidence that wasn’t even related to the allegations and finally lumped the few instances which they could directly corroborate with the many instances they could not in order to create an illusion of having proved over 70 repeated and flagrant violations, when in fact they did not.
Can you imagine if they had simply been accurate and said, “A Miami booster fingered 72 players. Here are all the allegations he made. We feel we can make a strong case that 12 of these allegations are true. Those allegations all occurred during the Larry Coker Era.”? Would the NCAA be investigating? Absolutely (they were anyway). Would the public still be upset? Yes. Would there be calls for the Death Penalty and the shutting down of the program? Absolutely not.
There is a reason that the President of the NCAA, privy to 5 months of investigative data, decried the “sensational media coverage.” That’s because it is.
I am open to criticism. Maybe Yahoo! has more evidence they didn’t bother to put on their web site that proves unsubstantiated allegations. Maybe I misread some of the evidence. Maybe I mis-categorized some of the athletes in the chart. Just yesterday, I erroneously accused Yahoo! of not doing due diligence because a credit card statement was referred to as being a September bill, when the allegation occurred in October. Several people have pointed out that I was incorrect, and I was. Yahoo!, in text, referred to that as a September statement, when it actually spanned from mid-September to mid-October. Maybe there are instances where I am equally inaccurate here.
But, if this is all the evidence Yahoo! has, and I am reading a majority of it correctly, then Yahoo! is not only the name of the company, but an apt adjective to describe the reporters who made these allegations and the real victims are the unsuspecting public who have largely been duped by shoddy journalism.