NCAA Acknowledges ‘Severe’ Missteps in Its U. of Miami Investigation

The NCAA on Wednesday acknowledged serious missteps in its investigation of the University of Miami and announced an external review of its enforcement processes to examine other potential lapses in its operations.

In a news conference, Mark Emmert, the association’s president, said the NCAA had identified a “very severe” issue of improper conduct in which former enforcement officials had improperly obtained information through a bankruptcy proceeding that did not involve the NCAA. The controversy raises questions about the integrity of the association’s investigative procedures.

“I am deeply disappointed and frustrated and even angry about these circumstances,” Mr. Emmert said. “It’s stunning that this has transpired.”

Mr. Emmert did not name the former staff members who were involved in the matter. But several of those who worked on the Miami case are no longer employed by the association. (The Miami investigation, you may recall, stems from a Yahoo! Sports report about Nevin Shapiro, a convicted Ponzi scheme operator and Hurricanes booster, who allegedly provided thousands of dollars in impermissible benefits to 72 football players over eight years.)

NCAA investigators frequently work with law-enforcement officials to obtain publicly available information about people under investigation. In this case, however, the NCAA paid a former criminal-defense lawyer for Mr. Shapiro to take depositions in a bankruptcy case, apparently for the sole purpose of obtaining information in the Miami inquiry.

Miami first notified the NCAA of problems in its athletic department more than two years ago, and on Wednesday the university’s president expressed exasperation that the association may have undermined the investigation.

Mr. Emmert is hoping that the external review can be completed within two weeks. He said that he did not believe the preponderance of evidence gathered in the case had been tainted, but that anything obtained improperly would be thrown out.

“We cannot have the NCAA bringing forward an allegation that’s predicated on information that was collected by processes that none of us could stand for,” he said.

The announcement was the latest black eye for the NCAA’s enforcement arm, which has faced criticism in recent months for an investigator’s handling of a high-profile case involving a UCLA basketball player. A former assistant football coach at the University of Southern California is suing the association for defamation in a case involving the star football player Reggie Bush.

In interviews with The Chronicle on Wednesday, several former NCAA enforcement officials described an investigative culture that had changed much in recent years as the association has faced increasing pressure to corroborate negative information about programs.

“A lot of times you know something happened, but you’re limited in how you can prove it,” one former investigator said. “That puts pressure on everyone to come up with creative ways to get information.” (The NCAA does not have subpoena power, and many players and coaches accused of wrongdoing do not cooperate with investigations.)

Another former enforcement-staff member was surprised at the accusations made against former colleagues in the Miami case.

“I don’t think there was anyone there who would’ve done anything duplicitous,” this person said. “If anything, maybe some people were a little overzealous, but they never tried to do something illegal.”

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