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Can NCAA really police college football? Miami emerges as test case.

NCAA critics were growing more vocal even before new allegations that University of Miami football players accepted gifts and prostitutes from a booster. Now, the NCAA faces a test of its credibility.

By Staff writer, Staff writer / August 18, 2011

Miami quarterback Jacory Harris whistles at football practice in Coral Gables, Fla., Thursday. The Hurricanes' program is facing serious allegations from a former booster.

Lynne Sladky/AP

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Allegations that a convicted Ponzi schemer masterminded what could be the most shocking scandal in college football history come at a pivotal moment for the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

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Already in the past 18 months, college sports' governing body has investigated or sanctioned some of the most powerful programs in college football, ranging from the University of Southern California (USC) to Ohio State and Michigan. Just last week, NCAA President Mark Emmert convened a conference of the chief executives from 50 universities to address how to reform college sports.

The NCAA has clearly tried to send a message that wanton rulebreaking in college sports – such as improper perks for college athletes – is coming to an end.

Now comes word from Nevin Shapiro, the recently jailed former University of Miami football booster, who told Yahoo! Sports he treated 73 current and former players to prostitutes, jewelry, and cash from 2002 to 2010.

Perhaps as never before, the NCAA's credibility as the arbiter of collegiate athletics is on the line, and that means the "death penalty" – shutting down Miami Hurricanes football for at least a year – remains a possibility.

Even before Mr. Shapiro's allegations came to light Tuesday, critics have with increasing intensity called for wholesale changes within the NCAA, saying it is too beholden to the college presidents and conference commissioners whose institutions directly benefit from the billions of dollars brought in by college football and basketball.

“These NCAA violations have been going on forever. Nothing new here, just the latest issue. The system is not broken. It was never workable,” tweeted Jay Bilas, an ESPN college basketball analyst and former player at Duke University.

Some critics say players should be paid for bringing in so much money. Others, including legendary Duke men's basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, suggest breaking off men's basketball and football into their own entities, since they bring in far more money than any other college sports and each has unique challenges.

Regardless, Miami is emerging as a test case, with enormous pressure on the NCAA to get any potential punishments right.

For one, two people involved in NCAA rulemaking and enforcement were top officials at Miami during Shapiro's booster years, raising questions about the NCAA's ability to oversee such a highly charged case.

Moreover, the University of Miami has long been seen as one of college football's most troubled programs – to the point that the cover of the June 12, 1995, issue of Sports Illustrated read: "Why the University of Miami should drop football." In the article – an open letter to then-university President Edward "Tad" Foote – it continued: "For all its victories, Miami football has been worse in more ways over a longer period of time than any other intercollegiate athletic program in memory."

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