WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN
The University of Miami is preparing to make its next move in its battle with the NCAA, but the NCAA already is throwing up obstacles.
In a highly unusual step, UM plans to submit to the NCAA a motion to dismiss the case against Miami before a March 29 deadline to submit documents, according to a source.
But according to two sources, the NCAA last week sent a letter to UM and the implicated former coaches with a warning: The infractions committee “does not believe it has the authority under the bylaws to dismiss the case” prior to the case going before the infractions committee in mid-June.
Even so, UM likely will let the process play out before considering a lawsuit.
A UM administrator said the school has prepared a compelling argument for why the case should be dismissed before the June 14-16 hearing, though it knows it’s highly unlikely to be dismissed.
Among the arguments UM will make in seeking dismissal:
### The NCAA’s decision to use Nevin Shapiro’s attorney and the bankruptcy court to extract evidence resulted in a “tainted” investigation. Yes, evidence obtained from the bankruptcy court proceedings has been tossed, but UM believes that's not good enough.
### The most serious allegations against the highest-profile people named in UM’s notice of allegations are uncorroborated beyond what Shapiro told the NCAA. That includes largely uncorroborated allegations involving Vince Wilfork, among others, according to a source.
As the Associated Press reported, in the NCAA’s allegations, Wilfork and Antrel Rolle account for $90,000 of the $170,000 that Shapiro is alleged to have spent on UM athletes, coaches and UM recruits. So a lot of the money in the NCAA’s charges is linked to allegations that UM believes are uncorroborated beyond Shapiro’s claims.
### UM was outraged that former NCAA investigator Ameen Najjar, who was fired last May, wrote a letter on Shapiro’s behalf. UM learned of the letter in recent weeks, which was reported by AP and obtained by The Herald. For a copy of the letter, please see our next-to-last post.
One person involved in the process said the letter was written before the NCAA interviewed other people besides Shapiro or informed UM it was being investigated.
“That’s the definition of pre-judgment or prejudice,” said the source. “And it’s a cover up because the NCAA didn’t tell Ken Wainstein to include it in his report.”
So why was that letter not included in the 52-page report by Wainstein, who was hired by the NCAA to investigate the NCAA’s improper handling of the case?
“During the inquiry,” Wainstein e-mailed me, “the team [that was investigating the case in Wainstein’s law firm] learned that Mr. Najjar sent a letter to Nevin Shapiro’s sentencing judge several months before the bankruptcy subpoenas were discussed.
“The NCAA had engaged [our law firm] to focus on the use of Mr. Shapiro's counsel and the circumstances surrounding the role of the NCAA enforcement staff in securing depositions in a bankruptcy proceeding to further its investigation of the University of Miami.
“The report focused on those circumstances and was not intended to exhaustively describe all aspects of Mr. Shapiro’s relationship with the Enforcement Staff.”
That explanation obviously doesn't placate UM and the former coaches.
Former UM assistants Aubrey Hill, Jorge Fernandez and Jake Morton also plan to add the letter as a supplement to their previously-filed motions to dismiss.
The NCAA has given the involved parties a two-week extension -- until March 29 -- to submit documents and opinions about whether information that’s included in the allegations should be eliminated from the evidence.
One infractions committee member then will be appointed to review the written submissions and determine whether a procedural hearing is warranted. But that person does not have the authority to dismiss the case.
If the case against UM isn’t dismissed, UM likely will not consider a lawsuit until it learns, sometime between August and October, what – if any – additional penalties are handed out by the infractions committee. If UM is given any significant penalties, including another bowl ban, it very likely will appeal. A lawsuit likely will be considered if UM loses an appeal.
UM prefers not to go to court. “We have to exhaust the normal remedies first, and we could win” without going to court, a UM administrator said.
### UM coach Jim Larranaga said Tuesday that his staff discusses slumping center Reggie Johnson "more than any player on our team, and by a lot. At some point, he's got to feel well enough [mentally] to play well."
With UM opening ACC Tournament play at noon Friday (against the Georgia Tech-Boston College winner), Shane Larkin said: "We need Reggie to have 15 and 10 one of these games. Reggie has to get back to being Reggie - a big, strong dude who rebounds" and makes "good post moves."
### Please see our last post for a new development on UM linebacker Eddie Johnson's status.
### The Dolphins have made inquiries about several free agent cornerbacks, including San Diego’s Antoine Cason and Carolina’s Captain Munnerlyn. Detroit’s Chris Houston also is on Miami’s radar, a source said. And they called about former Arizona free agent Greg Toler before he signed with Indy on Tuesday night.
### The Dolphins put out on feelers on San Diego free agent linebacker and former FIU standout Antwan Barnes, who has 17.5 sacks in his past 38 games, but stopped short of making a significant offer. At least as of Tuesday.
### After losing Anthony Fasano and being spurned by Jared Cook, the Dolphins are bringing in Jets free agent tight end Dustin Keller for a visit.
### Though the Dolphins inquired about Packers free agent safety Charles Woodson, they decided not to make an offer before re-signing Chris Clemons on Tuesday. Woodson will visit with the 49ers on Wednesday.
### We'll have more on the Mike Wallace signing in the coming days, but here are a few tidbits on the Dolphins' musical chairs at linebacker, with Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler replacing Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett:
Pro Football Focus ranked Ellerbe 14th among all inside linebackers for 2012, one spot behind Dansby. But Ellerbe was a better pass rusher last season (4.5 sacks in 13 games). Dansby, who often was used in pass coverage, had one sack even though he played nearly 500 more snaps than Ellerbe in 2012. Dansby flashed pass rush skills in Arizona, but that never translated here, partly because of how Miami used him.
Ellerbe, who at 27 is four years younger than Dansby, has started only 14 games in four years, including seven last season. But he has no interceptions and just one forced fumble over the past three seasons. Dansby wasn't much better with impact plays --- only one interception and three forced fumbles over that period. But Ellerbe is highly regarded, played very well for Baltimore last season (initially filling in for Ray Lewis), and ESPN analyst and former Colts GM Bill Polian said he was the free agent (other than re-signed Joe Flacco) that Polian deemed most important to the Ravens.....
Pro Football Focus ranked Burnett fourth among all 4-3 outside linebackers (based on 2012 performance) and ranked Wheeler sixth. Their 2012 stats were nearly identical: Burnett had 110 tackles, 2.5 sacks and one forced fumble. Wheeler had 109, three and two for the Raiders.
Neither was great in pass protection. Quarterbacks had a 101.2 rating in Burnett's coverage area and a 111.1 rating in Wheeler's. But Wheeler, at 28, is two years younger and cheaper. Ellerbe and the speedy Wheeler are better blitzers than Dansby and Burnett.
Miami brought in Wheeler for a workout last spring but decided not to sign him, opting for Gary Guyton instead. Jeff Ireland changed his mind this time around, after watching Wheeler put together his best pro season last year, which was his first in Oakland after playing previously in Indianapolis.
### Even beyond LeBron James’ greatness, Rashard Lewis marvels at this: He said James already bought his teammates five gifts this season, including two sets of head phones, a Playstation travel game system and a Galaxy Notebook. “Everything is done for his teammates,” Lewis said. “He takes [generosity] to another level.”
Said LeBron: “That’s just the person I am. My mom always told me to share.”... Please see our last post for more Heat notes.
### Marlins roster battles: Among position players, Casey Kotchman (.425), Kevin Kouzmanoff (.375), Chris Coghlan (.344) and Chone Figgins (.333) are making a strong case to stick. Matt Downs (.167), Austin Kearns (.085) and Bryan Petersen (.071) are not.
Wade LeBlanc, who has allowed no earned runs in nine innings, remains the front-runner for the No. 5 rotation spot.