CRAWFORD | NCAA improprieties could weaken case against Hurtt - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | NCAA improprieties could weaken case against Hurtt, others

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LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- It was bound to happen. With a rule book this large, the NCAA was finally bound to catch this rogue program running amok.

At long last, the NCAA has flipped on the blue lights and pulled up behind one the one institution in college sports that has had less regard for good sense than perhaps any other -- its own enforcement department.

That's right. The next subject of a major NCAA investigation will be the NCAA itself.

The announcement came Wednesday, with NCAA president Mark Emmert acknowledging that NCAA enforcement officials broke NCAA rules in investigating a Miami recruiting scandal involving jailed booster Nevin Shapiro, who has confessed to a seven year run of significant violations at the school.

Emmert said an investigation or release of findings at Miami -- and subsequently, coaches involved in the probe who now are employed elsewhere, including Louisville assistant football coach Clint Hurtt and Missouri head coach Frank Haith -- will be put on hold until an outside investigator conducts his own review of the enforcement staff's actions in the case.

Emmert called it, "A very severe issue of improper conduct" within NCAA enforcement staff.

"We can't have the NCAA bringing forward allegations collected by processes no one can stand for," he added. "We have to go through all of the evidence to determine what has and has not been appropriately collected and influenced by improper conduct.

"The single most important issue of fairness for me is that we make sure that any allegations brought forward are based on good, sound information that was gathered through appropriate means. We're going to move as fast as possible, but we just have to get this right."

At issue: Shapiro's bankruptcy attorney, Maria Elena Perez, was used by the NCAA to subpoena witnesses in Shaprio's bankruptcy, then deposed them with NCAA representatives present. The NCAA paid Perez for her services, something Emmert said that NCAA administration did not realize until it saw unauthorized invoices, despite media reports that the NCAA had been conducting such depositions months prior.

That constitutes a major breach of the NCAA's investigative mandate, set by its membership. And it not only could result in a delay in delivering allegations in the Miami case -- which was sparked by a Yahoo! Sports investigative report in August of 2011 -- but could result in a reduction of charges, given that Emmert asserted, "Any information that we determine was obtained improperly absolutely would be thrown out."

A CBS Sports report said Hurtt could face  major NCAA allegations just 24 hours before this news broke. And he likely still will face some significant charges.

Those could be a while in coming, however. Emmert said the NCAA's own independent review of itself, he hoped, would take "weeks, not months," but that could be overly optimistic. And now, any coach who receives a penalty that could jeopardize his employment has a new opening with which to challenge any findings.

With an aggressive attorney, Hurtt likely now can question the origin of any NCAA finding and at the very least attempt to win more lenient sanctions through the due process the NCAA provides, if not through the courts beyond that.

Hurtt has not spoken publicly about specifics of allegations against him, and in fact still has not, after three seasons at U of L, even received a detailed written accounting showing the potential violations of which he's accused.

On Tuesday, CBS Sports cited a source saying that Hurtt could face allegations of unethical conduct, and that Miami was "throwing everything at him" in defending itself against NCAA sanctions.

Hurtt's defense likely will entail pointing out that Shapiro began providing impermissible benefits to Miami recruits as far back as 2001, long before Hurtt became recruiting coordinator in 2007, and that Hurtt walked into a pattern of behavior not just established by an individual, but an institution. Shapiro is reported to have threatened various school officials when he didn't get his way, and counted among his possessions smiling photographs with then-Miami president Donna Shalala.

Hurtt also would be expected to answer each charge specifically, and his effectiveness in doing so would determine the final penalties.

Emmert said Wednesday that he does not expect the bulk of the allegations against Miami and coaches involved to be affected. That Hurtt would escape without penalty is highly unlikely.

But Hurtt escaping with his U of L job intact now could be more likely. The fact is, if the NCAA's zeal to prosecute this investigation led it this far out of bounds in the Miami case, the entire case now seems far more susceptible to challenge.

U of L athletic director Tom Jurich, speaking to reporters before Emmert's announcement but after the NCAA had informed all involved what was coming, said, "That's a deal between Clint and the University of Miami right now. There's really nothing that we know about.

"This is something they (Hurtt and Miami) need to deal with. I don't believe any allegations have even been made to him yet, at least to my knowledge. And when they do, he'll get his due process and get his chance to speak and deal with that. And then we'll wait for the final outcome and make our decisions. I'm very comfortable with the people we have on this campus. (U of L coach) Charlie (Strong) sets the tone for this football program. . . . We're very strong in the compliance area. It means a lot to us. It's very important to Charlie."

U of L is not a subject of the investigation, nor have any allegations concerning Hurtt's work at U of L been reported.

So after widespread speculation, it's down to more waiting for Hurtt and others with a stake in the Miami investigation. But the NCAA's mishandling of this undoubtedly means that it cannot rule with as heavy a hand as it might have, or if it does, it has left open more possibilities for challenges.

In fact, some groundwork already may have begun. One attorney representing Missouri's Haith, formerly the head coach at Miami, said that CBS reports that Haith could be facing unethical conduct charges are wrong.

"Throughout the case we have conversations all the time with the NCAA," Michael Buckner, one of three attorneys representing Haith, told The Miami Herald. "Any type of allegations are not allegations until you receive the actual notice. Whoever talked to ( college basketball writer) Jeff Goodman is violating the NCAA confidentiality provision and as of right now, my client and anyone on his legal team have not received a notice of allegations."

And as of Wednesday, all parties looking to defend themselves have a bit more ammunition.

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