Allegations of rampant NCAA violations that have rocked the University of Miami are reverberating at the state's two biggest programs.
Though BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham are busily preparing their teams for the upcoming season, both are aware of Yahoo! Sports' shocking report.
At the center of the report is Nevin Shapiro, a former Hurricane booster who is currently serving time in prison for orchestrating a Ponzi scheme. Shapiro told Yahoo! that over an eight-year period, he provided benefits to 72 Miami athletes.
If the allegations are true, the NCAA could impose severe penalties on Miami football, especially if it's proven that coaches, or school officials, knew about Shapiro's actions.
Mendenhall said he heard about some of the details of the report from BYU football media relations director Brett Pyne as the coach walked off the practice field Wednesday.
"Some of the things I heard coming out about Miami sounds like a movie," Mendenhall said.
Asked about the Miami situation after Wednesday's practice, Whittingham replied, "It's big news, I can say that."
In recent months, the NCAA has been investigating Ohio State in connection to reports that surfaced about Buckeye players accepting improper benefits from boosters. In late May, coach Jim Tressel resigned.
So, boosters' involvement in college football has been on Mendenhall's radar for a while, and BYU has set up new policies in an attempt to get a handle on the issue.
"I'm concerned, just as every other head coach is concerned. In terms of measures, I've asked our athletic director to send a letter and e-mails out to every one of our boosters, acknowledging and reminding them what the rules are," Mendenhall said. "Each time now I've had to speak in front of any of our supporters or boosters, I've reminded them of that as well. We have new policies in place where a booster isn't to ever ask a player to dinner without their position coach knowing or (BYU's NCAA compliance office) knowing first, for us to approve it. We're putting as many measures in place as we know how. Hopefully, they'll cooperate."
Interest in college football has bred a culture of wealthy fans that crave access to players, Mendenhall said.
"A lot of times boosters have large egos and they're used to getting their way. They like influence, they like power, they like autonomy to do what they want. Sometimes they do or don't realize how much they're damaging college football. There's a balance. That doesn't mean I don't appreciate the support given appropriately, but it also means there are boundaries and they need to stay within them."
Football coaches are like CEOs of a large corporation, with 105 players on the roster to monitor. Whittingham and Mendenhall know it's impossible to know everything that's going on with all of their players at all times.
"You can't follow them around 24/7," Whittingham said. "There's no way you can do that. What you do is you try to educate them and instill our beliefs in them and what we expect and then hope that they can comply. Really it boils down to you recruit the right kind of guys. That's what you try to do, the high character guys and guys that are going to do things the right way and the way they should be done. No one is ever 100 percent in that area, but you do the best you can and you just hope that your guys make good decisions."
"I've asked our players, I've educated them to report when a guy asks you to do that or gives you that, or anything, I need to know right away," Mendenhall said. "It's a shame to have to put the burden on the players. But without them coming to us, it's hard to know in the community what's going on. I think we do a good job, but of all the schools nationwide, I'll bet every head coach is worried right now about who's doing what booster-wise in their program."
Mendenhall added that the NCAA should be more involved in policing interactions between boosters and players.
"At some point there's going to have to be a summit or a major forum on how to do this, because to shift the burden to the players and tell them to come to the coaches when that happens, even though most will, to say that's the answer, it seems like the oversight needs to improve."42 comments on this story
Asked if he feels sympathy for first-year Miami coach Al Golden, who unwittingly inherited a messy situation, Whittingham said, "The grass isn't always greener. That's just my analogy about things. But, yeah, it's not real fair, but life isn't fair."
Dirk Facer contributed to this report.