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August 26, 2011

Should Miami pay the ultimate price?

Had Patrick Henry been a contemporary resident of Coral Gables, Fla., he never would have demanded, "Give me liberty or give me death."

Miami in the Liberty Bowl or another of that ilk? Perish the thought. A program once accustomed to playing for national championship on a consistent basis would have looked down on such a pedestrian postseason appearance.

Yet, in the near-future, the Hurricanes may yearn to play in a game such as the Liberty Bowl ... or any bowl for that matter.

Miami is in trouble. The NCAA is investigating allegations by a former booster who claims he provided illegal benefits to Miami athletes over an eight-year stretch. At the least, Miami figures to lose a significant number of scholarships and face a multi-year bowl ban.

So, they might not get Liberty (or any other bowl game). But should the Hurricanes get death?

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Ultimate price?

How is it that the potential for the death penalty is not being discussed regarding transgressions - over multiple years - at Miami? Given the recent penalties at other high-profile programs for far less, I don't see how this is not warranted and inevitable, however unfair to the players within the program who either chose to do the right thing or knew nothing.
Sean in Winter Park, Fla.

The popular belief in college athletics is the NCAA never again will punish an athletic program by imposing the death penalty, which was used on SMU's football program 25 years ago.

But the Yahoo! Sports report alleging rampant violations involving former booster Nevin Shapiro and several former and current players and coaches has raised the question of whether the penalty can or should be enacted again.

Most doubt the NCAA will go that far in its eventual punishment of Miami. Indeed, some former players at SMU don't think it should.

"I'm not personally blood-thirsty and pulling for them to get the death penalty just so somebody else will get it other than us," Mitchell Glieber, a wide receiver on SMU teams before and after the death penalty that led to the cancellation of the program's 1987 and '88 seasons, told Rivals.com. "If the administration knew nothing about it and that comes out in the investigation, then I have a hard time with the NCAA punishing the people that were left behind in the wake of something that happened before.

"That's kind of what happened with us. The people left behind were innocent people."

Added former Mustangs quarterback Lance McIlhenny: "Two wrongs don't make a right. I don't think the NCAA will ever do that [administer the death penalty] again, right or wrong. It's too damaging to a university."

Miami could be subject to disqualification as a repeat offender of NCAA rules. Miami was on probation in the mid-'90s for a scandal involving fraudulent Pell Grants and other improper payments to football players.

Shapiro has claimed that over an eight-year period, he spent millions of dollars providing UM athletes with cash, entertainment, use of a yacht, meals at expensive restaurants, jewelry, prostitutes and, on one occasion, an abortion. He claimed this was done with the knowledge of several coaches in the football and basketball programs.

But the Miami administration, while failing to monitor Shapiro's actions, may not have had any knowledge of the violations. That would be a huge difference between Miami and the SMU case, in which athletic department officials were fully aware and even involved in a system to pay players. Even then-Texas Governor Bill Clements, an SMU alum, was involved. Glieber said that made SMU's violations more egregious.

"Certainly, if what they say that happened [at Miami] actually did happen, there should be significant penalties that are brought down on the university," said Glieber, now the vice president of marketing for the State Fair of Texas. "But one of the big keys in SMU's situation versus what I've heard about at Miami is the involvement of the administration within the school and the knowledge of the administration within the school of what was going on. That was especially damming in our case.

"What they have to do in the investigation is decide who knew about what was going on and if it was just a rogue booster out there doing stuff on his own. Yeah, it's a bad situation - but it's a completely different situation. Was the school administration or people on the Board of Regents familiar with what was going on and turned a blind eye to it or allowed it to happen? That's the key."

McIlhenny suggested the accusations of improprieties at Miami may be worse than SMU's because of the amount of money that allegedly is involved.

"What we did was wrong at that time," said McIlhenny, now involved in commercial real estate leasing. "But we're talking about a couple of hundred dollars here and there. It wasn't the magnitude I've seen written up and reported now, with thousands of dollars and all this stuff."

While McIlhenny isn't calling for the death penalty, he acknowledged some might.

"I'm sure SMU fans out there are all bent out of shape and say, 'We did this and Miami did that' and think [Miami's] penalty will be a cake walk," he said. "I'm not focused on all that. There might be some SMU fans out there that would speak up, but I'm just trying to lease office space."

Under the radar

With all the preseason talk about running backs like Alabama's Trent Richardson and South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore, no one seems to be paying attention to Auburn's Michael Dyer. Last season, he broke Bo Jackson's school freshman rushing record and that was sharing carries with Cam Newton and Onterrio McCalebb. Why isn't anyone talking about Dyer?
Will in Dothan, Ala.

From this perspective, it doesn't appear Dyer is being ignored. For instance, he has been mentioned prominently in stories about the quality and depth of running backs in the SEC this season.

Dyer was a second-team member of the SEC coaches' preseason all-conference squad. That doesn't strike me as a slight.

Lattimore and Richardson were on the first team, and at this point, it makes sense to rate Dyer below Lattimore and Richardson.

As a backup, Richardson has rushed for more than 700 yards in each of his first seasons. This season, he'll get significantly more carries and will run behind a strong line that includes four returning starters.

Lattimore, who is coming off an impressive freshman season in which he rushed for 1,197 yards, is running behind a line with three returning starters. Opposing defenses can't be too preoccupied with stopping Lattimore because Alshon Jeffery is one of the nation's most feared receiving threats.

By comparison, only one starter returns from the 2010 Auburn offensive line, which was one of the best in the nation. And while it's true that Dyer rushed for 1,093 yards despite Newton's presence, there is another way to look at that. Dyer's rushing opportunities were enhanced because defenses were keying on Newton. This season, opposing defenses will key on Dyer.

Does that mean Dyer can't or won't be as effective this season? Not at all. But when taking all aspects into account, the projection of Richardson and Lattimore as the SEC's top two running backs is logical.

Big Ten speculation

With all this expansion talk, I came up with my idea of four teams that will join the Big Ten in the future - Oklahoma and Oklahoma State from the Big 12 and Pittsburgh and Connecticut from the Big East. Do you have any idea what teams could join the Big Ten in the future?
Dan in Windsor, Canada

Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are committed to the Big 12 for the time being. But if that conference implodes, as many anticipate it will, word is those schools would be more interested in joining the Pac-12 if that conference opts to expand. It probably would.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott's grand plan was a 16-team "super conference," stretching from the Pacific to the Midwest. He still might realize his plan; it's just taking a little more time.

Of course, the primary motivation for expansion is to increase a conference's TV reach and viewership. That's why any Big Ten expansion plans again will start with trying to lure Notre Dame into the fold.

Notre Dame has turned down previous invitations, but with the ever-changing landscape of college athletics, the Irish eventually might be willing to finally join the Big Ten. That is, if they don't wind up in a league with Texas, an idea that Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds claims has been discussed at least to some degree.

I'm told other likely Big Ten targets would be Maryland, Rutgers and Virginia Tech. Those three programs would give the Big Ten a presence in New York, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, which are the No. 1, No. 8 and No. 24 TV markets in the United States.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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