CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Donna Shalala was visiting Casablanca last week, and went to a famed restaurant in that Moroccan port city one night with a very specific purpose.
Hoping for closure in the Miami-NCAA saga.
"If you remember the movie 'Casablanca' all those people sat around in Rick's Cafe waiting for their visas," Shalala, the president of the University of Miami, said in an interview with The Associated Press. "So I specifically went over there for dinner hoping the NCAA would call us."
A week later, that call came, and the scandal that has hovered over Shalala's university for more than two years essentially ended.
Miami got its sanctions from the NCAA on Tuesday, with nine lost football scholarships and three lost men's basketball scholarships — both over three-season spans — being the biggest final hurdles the school will have to overcome before it can declare the Nevin Shapiro saga officially over. Shapiro is the former booster and convicted felon who sparked the massive NCAA probe that has overshadowed the school's athletic department since 2011.
While this chapter seems over — "the case is closed," Miami athletic director Blake James said — Shalala cringed at the notion that Tuesday's word should serve as cause for celebration.
In fact, when asked if accepting congratulations would be appropriate, Shalala said absolutely not.
"I just have not been obsessing over it," Shalala said. "We moved on in terms of everybody at the university had to get their jobs done. I'm happy that we got a decision. Saying it's over, I think, is not the right way to characterize it because over the years the university will both make investments and make sure we continue to have a very effective compliance system.
Shalala lashed out at the NCAA in February when the school got its notice of allegations. That came after the NCAA had to acknowledge that its own investigators broke rules by aligning with Shapiro's attorney, and Shalala argued loudly that her school was not getting a fair shake in the process.
That was eight months ago. The meeting with the Committee on Infractions was more than four months ago. The waiting game has been ongoing ever since, and even though Miami got more sanctions Shalala said the right move for the university was to accept them, move on and not appeal.
"We have essentially imposed most of the penalties ourselves and have appropriately apologized to our community, both in and outside of the university," she said.
Shalala is very involved in athletics at Miami. She often meets recruits, and has heard plenty of questions from their parents about the NCAA matter over the past two years. She's a fixture at games for just about every team, from football to women's soccer to women's basketball and anything in between.
And she lauded the way the two Miami coaches at the center of this storm, even though none had any direct involvement with Shapiro, helped the university survive the mess.
"The fact that the two coaches involved, Al Golden and Jim Larranaga, were steadfast and really courageous made all the difference in the world to our entire community," Shalala said. "We're very grateful to them for sticking with us and with their programs — and while all this was swirling around them, staying focused on building championship teams."