COLUMBIA — Now that the NCAA has made formal charges against Missouri coach Frank Haith, where does he go from here?
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
First off, the timing of the charges — detailed in letters to Haith and Missouri, and the notice of allegations sent to Haith — assures he’ll coach the rest of the season, because he now has 90 days to draft a response to the NCAA and challenge the allegations before the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions, which Haith will hope rules in his favor.
Plus it’s safe to say Haith can breathe a sigh of relief because the most serious charge — unethical conduct — never materialized.
According to the Associated Press, the infractions committee isn’t scheduled to meet until July unless all parties agree to a shortened response time. But even if the NCAA does find Haith guilty of failure to monitor, it appears he’s looking at no worse than a short suspension at the start of next season or some recruiting restrictions, the same punishment handed to UConn’s Jim Calhoun and Baylor’s Scott Drew, two notable coaches who have faced the same charge in the last three years.
After reviewing the documents the NCAA sent to Missouri, Montgomery, Ala., based attorney Don Jackson — who has defended clients against the NCAA for 23 years — is confident that is the worst-case scenario for Haith.
“I don’t see any factual or procedural elements here that would justify a show-cause,” Jackson said, referring to the NCAA’s “show-cause” penalty that has ended the college careers of some coaches.
In fact, Jackson sees plenty of flaws in the NCAA allegations that Haith’s lawyers can attack when they go before the infractions committee.
The first is the nature of the allegations themselves. According to the notice, imprisoned booster Nevin Shapiro threatened to claim he paid a Miami recruit unless Haith or Miami assistant Jake Morton provided money to Shapiro. Haith failed to alert the athletic department, failed to ensure that Shapiro’s claim lacked merit or disclose Morton’s financial dealings with Shapiro and instead, the NCAA claims, Haith gave money to Morton that he then provided to Shapiro.
“It looks like they’re holding this head coach responsible for violating NCAA legislation because he was a victim of an extortion attempt,” Jackson said. “Are they saying not having reported an extortion attempt is a violation of NCAA legislation? If so, that’s crazy.”
The second problem Jackson sees is the NCAA’s recent admission of misconduct by its enforcement staff on the case, which resulted in 20 percent of the evidence being thrown out.
Jackson, who says he has found the infractions committee to be fair in the past, says this is a major problem for the NCAA. On Thursday, Florida Rep. Joe Abruzzo called on his state’s attorney general to investigate what he called a corrupt probe by the NCAA.
“The committee’s first obligation is to evaluate the credibility of the evidence,” Jackson said. “That’s their primary responsibility. Tell me who is credible here: a convicted felon and the NCAA’s enforcement staff? There is no credibility whatsoever in any of this.”
“If you’re on the Haith’s side of the fence, how can you respond if they don’t put more information in it?” Jackson said. “How can you walk in and defend yourself against an allegation as vague and ambiguous as this is? It’s too vague.”
Jackson also noted that while the failure-to-monitor charge is clearly less severe than unethical conduct, a conviction, of sorts, by the infractions committee would serve as a black mark on Haith’s record, which to Jackson hardly seems fair considering the concerns that have been raised regarding the way the NCAA investigated the case.
“It could impact a career, it’s just not a death knell like a show cause,” Jackson said. “In light of the issues in the case, how can you find this coach guilty of anything when all this evidence had the potential to be tampered with?”
Of course, Jackson knows from his battles with the NCAA over the years that its far too early to predict what will ultimately happen. But it’s apparent, to him, that Haith has some good arguments to make in his own defense.
“I feel comfortable saying the attorneys involved in the case will represent Haith well,” Jackson said.
To reach Terez A. Paylor, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 816-234-4489. Follow him at Twitter.com/TerezPaylor.