SI Asks Shalala to Cancel UM Football Season

"Complete humility is in order" if Shalala and Canes want to make real changes

Sports Illustrated is asking the University of Miami to drop its football program again, albeit temporarily.

In 1995, SI took the unusual move of leading its weekly issue with an open letter to UM, asking the school to kill its football program in the wake of the early-90s Pell Grant scandal. The cover, which simply read "Why the University of Miami should drop football" in white text against a green background, remains one of its most memorable.

SI opted against the jarringly minimalist cover this time around, but Alexander Wolff, who asked Miami to drop football in 1995, once again called for harsh measures at the U following the allegations that former booster Nevin Shapiro provided impermissible benefits to scores of Hurricanes over the past decade.

Instead of asking UM president Donna Shalala to end Hurricanes football forever, he proposed Miami cancel its upcoming season as part of a multi-pronged plan to restore Miami and Shalala's credibility such that both can lead a charge for reforming the NCAA.

Wolff writes that for UM, "complete humility is in order," even though the NCAA will most likely not end up giving the Canes the death penalty (which would suspend the entire program from play for one year).

"The NCAA won't dismantle your football program for you. With so many of its conferences wedded to TV money, the NCAA doesn’t have the nerve to assess the death penalty anymore," Wolff wrote.

That does not diminish the scope of the problems facing Miami, though.

"Your football program has no regard for the rules," Wolff continued, "and your administration has no ability to enforce them."

Wolff also notes Miami's problems are indicative of the fact that the NCAA itself is in need of some major changes, writing, "There's a good reason only 20 of the colleges in the U.S. News top 50 field FBS football teams, and only five of the Forbes top 50 do."

If Shalala could make the bold move and cancel UM's 2011 season, she would regain the standing to lead a massive effort to overhaul the NCAA and possibly enact some major changes.

"By making clear that you would have accepted the death penalty for Miami if you hadn’t chosen the harder route of taking the hemlock yourself, you will have the clout to lead the calls for systemic reform," says Wolff.

Here's Wolff's reform plan:

  1. Lobby Capitol Hill to "Make it a federal offense to compromise a college athlete's eligibility with improper benefits"
  2. Get Congress to "regulate big-time college sports as a for-profit business unless the NCAA enacts real reform."
  3. While she's at it, get the NCAA to reform compliance (have compliance officers become employees of an independent agency, not individual schools or the NCAA), institute a salary cap for coaches, and abolish the BCS.
  4. If she has any free time left over, try and figure out cold fusion.

Wolff did not actually suggest that last step, but based on some of the tall tasks he is asking of Shalala (getting politicians to fight out-of-control coaching salaries, abolish the BCS and do anything besides kick the can down the road and bicker amongst themselves), he may as well have asked her to invent a time machine and banish Shapiro to Pluto in 1992.

Wolff is right when he argues that Miami's problems extend far beyond Coral Gables, but those problems are so entrenched that Shalala will need a ton of help to make any of the proposed changes reality.

If he thinks falling on her sword will be enough to placate the opponents of change, he has a very optimistic view of mankind's capacity for forgiveness. And asking a Congress with a significant anti-regulatory faction to step in and clean up college football is either naive or delusional.

You can't fault Wolff for making these suggestions. Certainly few observers would disagree that the NCAA is in need of a major overhaul to help schools prevent their own Shapiros from usurping authority.

But just as Miami's problems are bigger than Shalala, the solution may require more muscle than Shalala alone can provide.

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