Miami football trying to move forward amid scandal

By Tim Reynolds

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Aug. 18 2011 4:44 p.m. MDT

FILE - This Nov. 28, 2010, file photo shows Miami athletic director Kirby Hocutt discussing the firing of the schools head football coach during a news conference in Coral Gables, Fla. The NCAA said Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2011 it has been investigating the relationship between convicted Ponzi scheme artist Nevin Shapiro and the University of Miami for five months, and the allegations _ if true _ show the need for "serious and fundamental change" in college sports. A person familiar with the situation said much of Shapiro's access to Hurricane programs in recent years was approved by former athletic director Kirby Hocutt, who has since left the school for Texas Tech. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing joint investigation between the university and the NCAA.

Lynne Sladky, File, Associated Press

CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Speaking out for the first time since Miami football players were accused of getting cash, gifts and prostitutes from an ex-booster, athletic director Shawn Eichorst vowed Thursday that "a better day" would be coming for the Hurricanes. Some players also ended their silence to say the team is hurting because of the allegations.

Those messages came as the attorney for Nevin Shapiro, a convicted Ponzi scheme architect, defended her client's accusations that he bankrolled a wild lifestyle for Hurricane players.

In a statement, Eichorst said the subjects of the NCAA and university investigation have his unconditional support. He urged a skeptical fan base to remain patient with a process that went on quietly for five months, then burst into the public eye Tuesday when Shapiro's claims were published by Yahoo Sports.

"There are tough times ahead, challenges to overcome and serious decisions to be made, but we will be left standing and we will be stronger as a result," Eichorst wrote. "I understand there are unanswered questions, concerns and frustration by many but this Athletic Department will be defined now and in the future, by our core values, our integrity and our commitment to excellence, and by nothing else."

Even Shapiro's attorney, Maria Elena Perez — a University of Miami graduate who proudly displays her diploma in her office — said she agrees with Eichorst that the Hurricanes will be "left standing" when this process ends.

"I think there will be a football program after this," Perez said. "If they shut down this football program, too many people will lose too much money."

But Perez said the allegations were not made up and speculated more could be triggered by Shapiro's story. The attorney said Shapiro, who is serving a 20-year prison sentence for masterminding a $930 million Ponzi scheme, is aware of the fallout from his claims made to Yahoo Sports.

"I believe inevitably there will be more," Perez said. "Whether that comes from Nevin or from outside sources who have additional information about this, I can't tell you. But I believe that there will be more."

The Hurricanes went through two practices Thursday, and coach Al Golden said he's hoping their focus is on football and nothing else. The team will hold its second scrimmage of training camp early next week, after which the depth chart and 60-person travel roster for the Sept. 5 season-opener at Maryland will essentially be set.

The NCAA investigation, though no one knows when it will end, is likely going to stretch for several more weeks, at least.

"If anything, it's going to bring us closer together," Golden said. "Again, 90 percent of the guys have nothing to do with this as it happened in the past. For the most part, inside here, we're moving forward."

Though Golden said his team decided on its own to limit usage of social media like Facebook and Twitter during training camp, some Miami players felt Thursday was the right time to speak out. Defensive back Brandon McGee tweeted before the morning practice, "Know this for sure everyone hurts! We all feel pain!" Between sessions, running back Mike James wrote "You have to appreciate the process and accept the struggle."

In Lubbock, Texas, former Miami athletic director Kirby Hocutt, who now holds the same job at Texas Tech, called the situation involving the Hurricanes "sad" and "unfortunate."

Hocutt said he has not been approached by NCAA investigators.

"If young people made mistakes, that's unfortunate," Hocutt said. He added that in his time at Miami, the school was very aggressive when it came to educating players about the pitfalls that could come from interacting with third parties.

"It was a rogue booster and someone who was determined to go around the system," Hocutt said.

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