VAHE GREGORIAN

A lot of gray matter in NCAA’s ruling on Frank Haith

Updated: 2013-10-23T01:05:21Z

By VAHE GREGORIAN

The Kansas City Star

— Yes, the NCAA investigation of the University of Miami had become tainted, so polluted that at one point the organization was compelled to cease the probe and investigate itself. Shazam, it purged some staff and declared everything fixed.

And, sure, we know the catalyst and epicenter of it all was sinister Miami booster and convicted felon Nevin Shapiro, a man now serving 20 years in prison for a $930 million Ponzi scheme, a man who subsisted on deception and attention-seeking and has demonstrated he is vindictive.

In fact, the most damaging element of the case against former Miami and current Missouri basketball coach Frank Haith essentially reflects extortion by Shapiro.

Having said that … even read with an open mind, even trying to account for coincidences and the circumstantial, the exhaustive NCAA report released Tuesday seems to make some logical conclusions as it pertains to Haith.

While Haith insisted on Tuesday he was truthful at all times with the NCAA, he declined to elaborate on why the investigation determined that he made “significant changes in his statements of facts” from one interview to another.

“If I wasn’t truthful, I think I would have been hit with unethical conduct,” an impassioned Haith said at a news conference, adding that his decision not to appeal his five-game suspension was for “symbolic closure” and “not an admission of guilt, because I do not agree with the findings of the NCAA.”

At some point, though, the NCAA determined that any plausible deniability around his case was … implausible and undeniable.

That’s why the NCAA repeatedly cited inconsistencies in Haith’s answers that left the committee at times questioning his credibility.

What Haith considered truthful, the NCAA evidently at best saw more as “truthiness,” the Stephen Colbert-ism that connotes a loose longing for something to be true regardless of facts.

To be sure, there are shades of gray to this mess and the case against Haith, who failed, per the NCAA, “to meet his responsibilities as a head coach when he did not monitor the activities of his assistant coaches and attempted to cover up (Shapiro’s) threats to disclose incriminating information.”

The scheming Shapiro’s words seemed to carry a lot of clout, for one thing.

You could argue, too, that the NCAA endured too much controversy and invested too much in this to exonerate Haith.

And, certainly, some of what’s attributed to Haith in the report is undoubtedly candid.

Asked about high-level recruiting in one of three interviews conducted by NCAA enforcement staff, Haith is quoted saying he wasn’t getting the five-star recruits at Miami and adds: “Let’s don’t be naïve … Our business is corrupt … and (we’ve) got to deal with (boosters for) the high level kid.”

The implicit suggestion was that he would stoop to no such thing, and at least MU officials on Tuesday reaffirmed their faith that Haith respects rules.

He has been “diligent and consistent in his efforts to promote an atmosphere of compliance at Mizzou,” senior associate athletics director for compliance Mary Austin said in a statement.

And it merits mention that Austin is a stickler for detail who wouldn’t say that lightly.

Also in a statement, MU chancellor Brady Deaton said Haith has “reaffirmed our values of compliance in every way.”

At the news conference, athletic director Mike Alden reiterated his mantra on Haith, saying he’s “looking forward to working together for a long time.”

Which also is significant, because Alden is hyper-sensitive to issues with basketball rules violations even years after the chaotic Quin Snyder era.

As for Haith, asked if there was a lesson learned or anything he would have done differently, he said, “I’m sure in hindsight there’s obviously things when you go through life you say I would have done something differently. … But I’m not looking backwards, I’m looking ahead.”

If he were to look back, surely he would say he wished he had never met Shapiro.

Because one way or another, he didn’t know how to deal with a man who from the start might have been seen as dangerous.

Upon meeting him for the first time to cultivate him as a donor, Shapiro said, “I don’t care what you hear about me. I’m going to try to coach your team,” the NCAA quoted Haith as saying.

Even if that was meant as a joke, even if Shapiro didn’t quite infiltrate that deeply, he still wormed his way in plenty enough.

And in the end, it was one particular issue with Shapiro that led to a painful chapter in Haith’s life that he said included his young daughter crying over it all, again, on Tuesday morning.

The NCAA said Haith contradicted himself, changed stories and, ultimately, inadequately explained his actions in what became a $10,000 payment made by assistant coaches to the mother of Shapiro.

At best, it seems, Haith looked away from shenanigans of his assistants (none of whom accompanied him to Mizzou, incidentally), when it came to the payment, in response to Shapiro apparently blackmailing the staff with threats to go public that he’d once provided an assistant $10,000 to facilitate the recruitment of a prospect.

At worst, Haith choreographed the payment, which came after he wrote three $3,200 checks to three assistants as “camp advances” … and the assistants cashed the checks the same day at the same bank.

In Haith’s Oct. 6, 2011 interview, the NCAA said Haith told investigators he had written those checks because the assistants were “financially struggling.”

One former assistant said he needed the money to pay for his child’s school tuition, which the NCAA said was not paid for another 47 days, so the committee deemed that explanation “not credible” … especially considering the check was cashed, not deposited.

Then in Haith’s Sept. 5, 2012, interview, the NCAA said Haith acknowledged writing the camp advance checks because assistant Jake Morton said he needed help to pay Shapiro.

In the final interview, Sept. 25, 2012, sought by Haith to clarify some points, the NCAA said his version of those events “changed significantly.”

Thus, this:

“The information supports a factual conclusion that (Morton) collected $3,200 from each of the other two coaches once they cashed their camp advance checks,” the NCAA report said, adding that (Morton) “then added cash that he had at home for the full payment to the booster.”

The committee, the report adds, “makes a factual conclusion that (Haith and Morton) worked together to ensure that the booster received a large cash payment and that this payment would end the booster’s threats.”

Whether it was a shakedown or a cover-up, it would take an extravagantly willing suspension of disbelief to conclude nothing was done wrong here.

No matter what issues you might have with the NCAA. And no matter how rotten Shapiro seems to be.

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4366 or send email to vgregorian@kcstar.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/vgregorian.

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