MIAMI –Quarterback Jacory Harris and 11 other Miami players who accepted extra benefits from former booster Nevin Shapiro will be allowed by the NCAA to play again, the first sanctions in a scandal that continues to overshadow the Hurricanes.
Of those, eight will miss at least one game, and all 12 must pay restitution.
The harshest penalties handed down Tuesday were reserved for those who took gifts from Shapiro while being recruited. Defensive lineman Olivier Vernon will sit out six games, while Ray Ray Armstrong – considered among the nation’s top safeties – and tight end Dyron Dye will miss four games apiece. Among the players sanctioned, only Vernon will miss more than one Atlantic Coast Conference game.
“I think it was probably fair,” Miami coach Al Golden told The Associated Press Tuesday night. “Clearly, whatever transpired, it wasn’t as over-the-top as everybody was initially reporting and all of those things. The NCAA and the university felt there was mistakes made … and I’ve accepted that. And now we’re moving forward.”
Miami opens its season at Maryland on Monday night.
The Hurricanes still might face many more sanctions as the NCAA’s investigation into Miami’s compliance practices continues. And with Tuesday’s ruling, the school has joined a growing list of schools with major football programs to be investigated by the NCAA for rule-breaking in the past 18 months. Others include Southern California, Ohio State, Auburn, Oregon, Michigan, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and LSU.
“Our members have continually stressed that involvement of third parties during recruitment will not be tolerated,” NCAA vice president of academic and membership affairs Kevin Lennon said.
Harris, Sean Spence, Travis Benjamin, Marcus Forston and Adewale Ojomo – all of whom were likely starters – must sit out one game and make restitution for accepting benefits after enrolling at the school. Four other players must repay small amounts, all under $100, but will not miss any games.
“They understand that their actions demand consequences,” Miami athletic director Shawn Eichorst said.
A 13th player, Marcus Robinson, was vindicated of wrongdoing, the university said.
The players who have to miss games may practice with the team even while they are unable to play.
“It’s nice to have it out there now,” Miami center Tyler Horn said. “There’s no suspense in the air. We know what we have. We know what we’re taking to Maryland. We have a lot of very talented players that we’re taking to Maryland, and we’re going up there to do our best. I wasn’t too worried about it. I knew things would take care of themselves.”
As Golden arrived at a fan gathering Tuesday night, he was greeted by dozens chanting his last name. Golden acknowledged them with a wave.
“I’m relieved,” Golden said. “I think that’s a fair assessment.”
The NCAA’s ruling means Stephen Morris – who led Miami past the Terrapins last season – will be at quarterback for the Hurricanes to start the season. Harris, Spence, Benjamin, Forston and Ojomo all will be eligible to play when Miami hosts Ohio State on Sept. 17.
“They’ll still be motivating us,” said Joel Figueroa, named Miami’s left tackle earlier Tuesday. “We’re going to welcome them back with open arms, and we know they’ll be ready to perform when the time comes.”
The process of evaluating the eligibility of Miami student-athletes might not be over yet. Miami President Donna Shalala revealed last week that university compliance personnel were investigating 15 student-athletes. Of those, 13 were addressed by Tuesday’s football decisions. A 14th is believed to be basketball player DeQuan Jones, who was also implicated by Shapiro’s claims to Yahoo Sports. The identity of the 15th is unknown.
It may be senior wide receiver Aldarius Johnson – who was also implicated by Shapiro, but not named in Tuesday’s NCAA statement. Golden said Tuesday afternoon, as the NCAA news was being announced, that Johnson is suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules.
“We clearly have identified what our travel team is now,” Golden said. “Everybody’s going to get their roles (Wednesday) and by 7 a.m. we’re going to be back on the practice field. That’s been kind of our sanctum anyway. That’s been the safest place for us this whole time.”
The NCAA said Vernon must sit six games and repay more than $1,200 because as a recruit he accepted things such as access to Shapiro’s suite at a Miami home game, drinks and cover charges at two different nightclubs. Shapiro, who told Yahoo Sports for a story published Aug. 16 that he provided benefits to 72 Miami players and recruits over an eight-year span, has even said that he made a $1,000 donation to Vernon’s high school booster club.
Armstrong must repay $788, the believed worth of his extra benefits, while Dye will pay back $738.
“The student-athletes involved have acknowledged receiving improper benefits and will now be responsible for restitution,” Eichorst said.
Forston, the NCAA said, received more than $400 in things such as “athletic equipment, meals, nightclub cover charges and entertainment at a gentleman’s club.” Spence received about $275 in benefits, Ojomo $240, Benjamin more than $150 and Harris more than $140.
Brandon McGee, JoJo Nicholas, Vaughn Telemaque and Micanor Regis all must pay less than $100 for taking various impermissible benefits. Regis was not one of the players Shapiro said accepted benefits. The sanctions of those four players were announced by the university, which is operating a joint investigation with the NCAA.
“I’m glad that chapter is closed,” Golden said. “I’m proud of our guys. I think they were, from every report I’ve gotten, were honest and forthright. And now we get ready for the University of Maryland.”