From the moment the Yahoo! Sports story exposed the mindblowing scope of Miami's Nevin Shapiro scandal, one question about the Hurricanes' potential NCAA punishment has towered above all others: Could Miami receive the death penalty?
There's not a college football fan alive who doesn't know that the NCAA has ordered the temporary shutdown of a program just once, at SMU in the 1980s. But with a broad consensus that the Hurricane scandal appears to be the most serious since the "Pony Excess" days, the death penalty has been touted by more than one observer as ripe for revival. Two former school compliance officials told the Palm Beach Post Wednesday that the allegations "absolutely scream" for a program suspension, and that the 'Canes would be a "likely candidate" for the SMU treatment.
But within the actual enforcement wing of the NCAA, there doesn't seem to be much stomach for it. Vice president of enforcement Julie Roe Lach is prohibited from discussing the Miami investigation specifically (even if her boss Mark Emmert apparently has no such limitations), but in speaking to the New York Times Wednesday she made it clear no one in Indianapolis is chomping at the bit to use the nuclear option:
“I have not heard [conversation] turn much to television bans or the death penalty,” she said. “The majority of the ideas or support I keep hearing relate toward suspensions [of coaches] or postseason bans being the most powerful.”One former chairman of the NCAA Committee on Infractions, David Swank, also said the NCAA would be reluctant to pull the trigger on sanctions that "destroy a program."
It's a position that makes sense in a vaccum. (And we're all for the continued elimination of television bans, which severely punish the sanctioned team's opponents simply for having the misfortune of being on the schedule.) Given that the Mustangs are just now crawling out of their smoking crater more than 25 years later, no one should want to see the death penalty handed down ever again.
But that doesn't take into account the USC problem. As the New York Times story notes, the Miami scandal appears to be of a magnitude greater than that of the Trojans' Reggie Bush case, which already holds the record for the stiffest penalties since the SMU decision--30 docked scholarships and a two-year bowl ban.
So how far past that standard can the NCAA go while still stopping short of the death penalty? Add another couple of years to the postseason ban, add in another several scholarships lost, add in the difficulty of (inevitably) finding new coaches at an already cash-strapped program and dozens of new players for the roster, and the 'Canes would be entirely crippled. They would face an enormous struggle to remain even marginally competitive in the ACC, or any BCS conference. They'd be, essentially, the walking dead version of what used to be Miami.
And if that's the case, would it be better for the Hurricanes to become the dead dead version for a year? Should they want to push the reset button, and start over after one lost season with fewer limitations and a cleaner slate afterwards?
Probably not. But unless the NCAA wants to undercut the Trojan decision and admit once-and-for-all that those sanctions were overboard and unfair -- not likely -- having the death penalty off the table means the COI will have a very, very fine line to walk when it comes to Miami.