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2 posts from November 20, 2012

November 20, 2012

NCAA gives ultimatum to players in UM investigation; Canes, Dolphins, Marlins, Heat chatter


The NCAA has delivered a new and disturbing ultimatum to numerous former University of Miami football players: Either talk to us or we’ll believe Nevin Shapiro’s claims against you.

The NCAA last week mailed a letter to former players that allegedly committed NCAA violations by accepting gifts from Shapiro, including dinners, prostitutes, trips to nightclubs, cash and other perks. Shapiro told the NCAA that 114 players committed violations; Yahoo previously identified 72 of them.

Only players who were playing college football at the time the investigation was launched are required to speak to the NCAA. Thirteen current or former UM football players did so in 2011. So the players who were sent the letter last week are no longer playing college football; some are in the NFL.

The letter, which I obtained, gives the players a Friday deadline to speak to the NCAA. What’s surprising is that the NCAA states in the letter that it will conclude the players committed violations if they do not respond.

UM officials were privately hopeful that many of the allegations made against players who left UM several years ago cannot be corroborated. Unless the NCAA is bluffing, it appears it might take Shapiro’s word on these claims unless the players refute them.

In recent days, several players and their attorneys have been trying to decide whether to speak to the NCAA.  Even Tuesday, one said he's not sure what he will do. So it’s unclear how many players will speak to the NCAA.

Here’s how the letter to one player attorney reads:

"The purpose of this letter is to apprise you that the NCAA enforcement staff is requesting to schedule an interview with your clients regarding their knowledge of or involvement in possible NCAA violations concerning the University of Miami, Florida, football program.

"Interviewing your clients is important in order for the enforcement staff to conduct a thorough investigation, and both the staff and the institution request you and your clients’ cooperation in this matter. However, at this time, all attempts to schedule and execute interviews with [blank] have been unsuccessful. As a result, this letter serves as a formal and final request by the NCAA enforcement staff for interviews with [blank] to be completed by Nov. 23, 2012.

“If we do not hear back from you or your clients by that time, the staff will consider the non-response as your client’s admission of involvement in NCAA violations. You may contact me at [blank] in order to arrange this interview. Your assistance in this matter is appreciated.”


Molly Richman,

Assistant Director of Enforcement

### My opinion: Regardless of whether it's bluffing or not, the NCAA - by sending this letter to former players - is being heavy-handed and manipulative. Considering the NCAA has no jurisdiction over former players, it's offensive that it would threaten to believe a convicted felon without additional corroboration. A felon, for that matter, who's in jail for a crime involving lying (a Ponzi scheme).


### Keep this in mind: Shapiro claims player violations started in 2002, but the NCAA’s four-year statue of limitations doesn’t apply when there’s a longstanding pattern of willful violations that continues into the past four years. The NCAA previously told UM that it will consider invoking that “willful violators” clause.

### Though several high-ranking UM officials believed UM should play in a bowl game if it won the ACC Coastal, a UM official said the school went with the advice of outside attorney Mike Glazier, who thought it would mitigate future penalties but was given no assurance that UM would not have any more bowl bans. Though Penn State got a four-year bowl ban this year for the Jerry Sandusky tragedy, no school has had a recruiting-related three-year bowl ban since Oklahoma State (1989-91).

One upshot, a UM official said, is self-imposing lessens the chances of prematurely losing seniors- and juniors-to-be, who could transfer and play elsewhere immediately, if UM gets a one- or two-year bowl ban, respectively.

### Some former players are upset about UM’s self-imposed bowl ban --- “These players don’t deserve it and Miami could be punishing themselves for no reason!” Olivier Vernon told me --- but current players “were told to watch what we say,” Brandon McGee said. That's one reason why you haven't heard any current Canes voice displeasure.

### Seniors McGee and Mike James are expected to be drafted, and UM hopes a few juniors (including Seantrel Henderson and Curtis Porter) don't turn pro, too. UM lost five early entrants to the NFL last year, but Al Golden said Tuesday: "There's a stronger relationship with a lot of these young men [now].... A lot of guys understand from last year, perhaps guys would have gone higher if they had stayed. We want to make sure they have the facts, not just leaning on one side."

### Golden, on his WQAM radio show Tuesday night: "The thing people don't understand and accept is I want to be here for a really long time."

### Here’s what has changed in how teams are defending Ryan Tannehill: According to Matt Moore, he’s seeing more zone coverage and “looks that are better disguised.” Also key: Tannehill is being blitzed less; he faced only three blitzes against Buffalo and threw his only touchdown against one of them. His 2012 quarterback rating is 77.2 when blitzed, 66.5 when not blitzed.

“Teams are adjusting to what the Dolphins are doing. There’s not much separation from their receivers, so the windows are always tight that Ryan is throwing into,” ESPN’s Ron Jaworski said off air Tuesday.

### Coach Joe Philbin said Tuesday that owner Stephen Ross – who expected this team would be a playoff contender – “has been fantastic, very, very supportive” through this losing streak but “of course, I give him a 72-hour cool down period.” Ross, predictably, was down in the wake of the Bills loss, a friend said. But he likes this coaching staff.

### Chris Leible, one of Jose Reyes’ agents, said Reyes was “shocked” about being traded and confirmed a Fox report that the Marlins had orally promised he would not be traded. “He was told many times he wasn’t going anywhere,” Leible said, declining to say who told Reyes that. (Another friend of Reyes said it was Jeffrey Loria who told him.)

Mark Buehrle also was angry and told associates that he, too, was told he wouldn't be traded, an associate said… The Red Sox pursued Reyes before the Toronto deal but offered only marginal prospects and wouldn’t pay most of his salary.

### Marlins executive Larry Beinfest suggested he would explore adding a power-hitting center fielder (either a cheap free agent -- good luck with finding one of those -- or through a trade) but otherwise would go with a combination of Justin Ruggiano, Gorkys Hernandez and Bryan Petersen in center. Chris Coghlan also might get yet another chance.… Beinfest said Wade LeBlanc, Brad Hand and Tom Koehler will compete for the fifth rotation spot behind Ricky Nolasco (Beinfest won’t guarantee he will be back), Jacob Turner, Henderson Alvarez and Nate Eovaldi.

### Though the Heat’s Mario Chalmers continues to allow too many blow-bys defensively, his improved passing is encouraging: His career-best 3.1-to-1 assist to turnover ratio ranks 10th among starting point guards. Last season, his 1.56-to-1 ratio was third-worst.

“We need Chalmers to be low turnover,” Shane Battier said. “He still has a tendency to go off the reservation and get crazy at times, but he’s better. He makes less young-player mistakes.”

After five years of big money and high draft picks, Dolphins o-line still erratic

Please check back later tonight for the Wednesday buzz, filled with Canes, Fins, Heat and Marlins tidbits.


First, though, some thoughts on the Dolphins' offensive line, which continues to exasperate at times:

Since Jeff Ireland arrived as general manager in 2008, the Dolphins have spent more money and used more top four-round draft choices on offensive line that any position.

Some of those decisions have paid dividends, including drafting emerging center Mike Pouncey, but the harsh reality is this:

Five years later, the Dolphins are still left with a unit that can’t consistently dislodge defenders in the run game, has two many breakdowns in pass protection, and can’t dominate an opposing defense for more than short occasional stretches.

“The offense line just hasn’t played as well” as it needs to, ESPN’s Ron Jaworski said off air today. “Jake Long, I know he has nursed some injuries, but these are all pro players. There has been inconsistency on the offensive line.”

For some perspective on how much money and resources have been devoted to the line, consider:

### Since Ireland became GM in 2008 (Bill Parcells was alongside and in charge until 2010), Miami not only used its first Dolphins draft pick  – and the No. 1 overall choice in 2008 – on Jake Long and commited $58 million to him, but remember this, too: the first player it signed in free agency were offensive linemen in three of those five offseasons: Justin Smiley ($25 million in 2008), Joe Berger (less than $2 million) and then Jake Grove ($29.5 million) in 2009 and Artis Hicks ($1.3 million) in 2012.

They also have spent more than $9 million over the past three years on Richie Incognito, who has done generally good work.

Of course, Smiley, Grove and Hicks never made it to the end of their contracts. Neither did Vernon Carey, who was signed to a six-year, $42 million extension in 2009, but was ordered to shave the last two years off his deal as part of a 2011 pay cut. Other free agents came and went, including Pat McQuistan and Ray Willis.

Then there’s the draft. Besides taking Long first, the Dolphins also invested draft picks on Shawn Murphy (a fourth-round washout), sixth-rounder Donald Thomas (who has started five games for the Patriots this season), sixth-rounder Andrew Gardner (never panned out), 2010 third-rounder John Jerry (starting at right guard), Pouncey (picked 15th in 2011 and now blossoming), and 2012 second-round pick Jonathan Martin (starting at right tackle.).

The current group of starters – Long, Incognito, Pouncey, Jerry and Martin – has played well at times but not nearly as well or consistently as the Dolphins expect. The Dolphins rank only 28th in rushing yards per attempt (3.6), and Joe Philbin attributes that primarily to substandard blocking (though receivers, backs and tight ends also are to blame).

“We’ve got to get our run game back on track, do a better job sustaining blocks and moving people,” Long said this week.

Said Incognito: “We have to create more space. We should be able to run against any look. It’s frustrating because we know what type of running game we can be.”

According to Pro Football Focus, the Dolphins have had their most success running directly behind Incognito (5.1 per carry) and Pouncey (4.5 to his left, 4.3 to his right). Conversely, the Dolphins are averaging 3.3 per rush behind Jerry, 2.7 behind Martin and 2.2 to the right edge on Martin’s side.

As for Long, the news is mixed, according to PFF. Runs to the edge on the left side – with Long blocking – are averaging a robust 4.8, but runs directly behind him are averaging 2.9.

PFF, which analyzes every play of every game, ranks Long 44th overall among all tackles, down from second in 2009 and 2010 and 21st last year. Though he has battled injuries in 2010 and 2011, he said he feels fully healthy and believes he is playing well. “I’m my biggest critic,” he said.

PFF ranks Martin 65th among 71 tackles. He has allowed four sacks and permitted 28 quarterback hurries, among the highest totals among tackles. “I’ve played well at times, bad at times,” he said. “I want to be consistent.”

Among 78 qualifying guards, PFF ranks Jerry 53rd and Incognito 58th, with Jerry listed as allowing two sacks and Incognito three.

Jerry, who won a starting job partly by getting in better shape, “has good size, good athleticism,” Philbin said today. “He has not been on the ground as much as early on. He has a chance to be a good player.”

Pouncey has been the unit’s most consistent player. PFF ranks him second among centers behind only Minnesota’s John Sullivan. He hasn’t allowed a sack and permitted just one hurry.

Excluding Pouncey, pass protection has been shaky at times. The Dolphins rank 17th in sacks-allowed-per-play play, with 27 permitted in 10 games. Long and Martin each have been responsible for four.