The NCAA’s seemingly never-ending probe of the University of Miami football and basketball programs took a bizarre turn on Wednesday, as the governing body admitted that it improperly obtained information via the attorney of former booster, and convicted felon, Nevin Shapiro. The NCAA admitted to hiring Mr. Shapiro’s attorney, Maria Elena Perez, to depose witnesses in his bankruptcy case.
The NCAA does not have subpoena power, and thus may have gained information that would not have otherwise been available through Ms. Perez’s representation of Mr. Shapiro. This casts a significant amount of doubt on the propriety of the NCAA’s investigation. According to attorney Jason Setchen, who represented former Miami basketball player DeQuan Jones in connection with the investigation, “That would be circumventing their own rules and regulations in an unfair advantage over [UM] by getting information that might not have otherwise been available to them in the course of their own investigation. Ironically, the NCAA’s purpose is to restrict unfair competitive advantage.’’
NCAA president Mark Emmert has stated that information obtained from Ms. Perez’s work would be thrown out, and has hired outside counsel to investigate what information was obtained improperly. At a press conference, a reporter asked Mr. Emmert, “So, essentially the NCAA was paying an attorney who was the subject of a current investigation to gather information of itself?’’ Mr. Emmert responded, “That appears to be the case.’’
Allegations against University of Miami athletics first surfaced in August 2011, and the investigation has been ongoing ever since. Miami football has voluntarily refrained from participating in bowl games the last two years, in an effort to lessen the eventual sanctions that are expected to be levied by the NCAA.
At this point, attorneys for the school are likely to reach out to the NCAA in hopes of reaching a settlement. While Mr. Emmert has indicated that the evidence obtained through Ms. Perez was not significant, the NCAA may be eager to put this matter behind it, especially at a time when the NCAA’s enforcement department has come under fire elsewhere. The NCAA has been sued by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for their discipline of Penn State University in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky matter, and has also been sued by former University of Southern California assistant coach Todd McNair, for their conduct in the Reggie Bush investigation.