Chip Kelly owes Nevin Shapiro a "thank you" card.
Just a few weeks ago, Oregon's program was in the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons. The Ducks were seemingly exposed for major recruiting violations, diminishing the accomplishments of head coach Kelly and his players, who reached the BCS National Championship Game last season. Make no mistake, Oregon still faces major sanctions and irreparable harm to its reputation, but has any one even mentioned Kelly and company since Miami booster Nevin Shapiro began dishing the dirt like a girlfriend scorned.
Shapiro, who is serving a 20-year prison sentence for masterminding a nearly one billion dollar Ponzi scheme. He claims to have given impermissible benefits (cash, clothes, prostitutes, etc...) to 72 University of Miami athletes, mostly football players, between 2002 and 2010.
Now that he is behind bars, Shapiro is bitter that many of the now-famous athletes he once gifted have seemingly turned their back on him. By all accounts, the now 42-year-old super booster has spent enough time in gentlemen's clubs, but he didn't learn the most important lesson of all. Just because strippers (or athletes in this case) act like they love you while you're emptying your wallet for them, doesn't mean that they actually do.
Don't feel bad for Shapiro. He's a crook. And don't feel bad for the players being exposed for accepting illegal benefits. They presumably had a great time on Shapiro's dime, and many have gone on to make millions of their own.
If you want to feel bad for someone, take pity on Al Golden, the former head football coach of Temple who thought he was taking over a program capable of a return to national significance on the gridiron. Furthermore, direct your sympathy toward the current Miami football and basketball athletes that have never benefited from Shapiro's thievery.
The program(s) will be punished severely. That is inevitable. But all of the graduated or current professional athletes that received gifts over the years will emerge unscathed. Will Shapiro's revelations ruin the lives of Devin Hester, Vince Wilfork or any other NFL standout implicated by Shapiro? Of course not. But some second string offensive tackle on the 2011 'Canes roster may not get a chance to play in a bowl game (or worse) through no fault of his own, and that's unfortunate.
The university recently deemed eight current players ineligible for their part in the scandal, including starting quarterback Jacory Harris. However, Miami has asked the NCAA to start the reinstatement process, thus potentially allowing those players to suit up for the season opener against Maryland on September 5.
I can't condemn college kids who accepted cash or other gifts that were being dangled in their faces. Did they know that their actions violated NCAA rules? Sure, but I would have streaked across campus for a couple of hundred bucks in college, and I have to assume that wouldn't have been deemed legal.
Back to Golden, who certainly couldn't anticipate the storm of controversy that was about to hit Coral Cables when he decided to follow in the footsteps of Howard Schnellenber, Jimmy Johnson and Butch Davis. The coach has clearly been affected by the allegations, but he remains dedicated to his current crop of players.
"If they knew this was percolating, I believe they did have a responsibility to tell me," said Golden of the Miami brass. "But look, I'm happy here. My wife is happy here. We've got great kids on this team. We have commitments from 24 young men and their families that appreciate and share our core values moving forward."
For the sake of Golden and his non-implicit players, hopefully the NCAA can find a fair way to police this situation. But if history has taught us anything, that won't happen. The new coach will pay for crimes committed under the watch of his predecessors, who very well may have knowingly turned a blind eye to "Shapirogate" for years.
And as for Shapiro, his fate has been determined. For all of the millions of stolen dollars the now-infamous rat blew pathetically trying to buy the friendship and approval of college kids, he will spend the next couple of decades friendless. Seems fitting.