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NCAA Football Kicks Off Season Under Cloud of Controversy

September 2, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JEFFREY BROWN: Next, keeping score on and off the football field, as the violations pile up on leading universities.

College football kicks off this weekend under clouds of controversy, after a series of offseason ethics scandals. The most explosive involves the University of Miami and former booster Nevin Shapiro, now serving 20 years in federal prison for involvement in a Ponzi scheme.

He’s told Yahoo! Sports that he provided gifts, cash and even prostitutes to 72 football players at Miami from 2002 to 2010. This week, school president Donna Shalala addressed the issue in a video message on the university website.

DONNA SHALALA, University of Miami: We are going to do this right. We are committed to having the most compliant program anywhere, and we will move on stronger and better prepared for the future.

JEFFREY BROWN: A day after Shalala spoke, the NCAA, the governing body for college sports, levied penalties against 12 current Miami players, most notably starting quarterback Jacory Harris. They must pay restitution, and some face suspensions of one to six games, including Monday night’s opener against Maryland.

In addition, the University of Miami program itself is expected to be hit with sanctions, up to the so-called death penalty, barring it from competing for at least a year.

The bad behavior competition this offseason has implicated other prestigious schools. At Ohio State, the NCAA is still investigating allegations that players traded memorabilia for discounted tattoos and cash, in violation of university and intercollegiate rules. That scandal cost coach Jim Tressel his job last May and led to the departure of star quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

And the University of North Carolina fired its coach, Butch Davis, in July amid a probe into ethics violations there.

In an interview with NPR on Wednesday, NCAA president Mark Emmert was asked if the problems are widespread.

MARK EMMERT, NCAA: Well, it certainly feels like it because of these very high-profile cases. And I’m often asked whether I think it’s better or worse than it’s been in the past. And the fact is, I don’t know. What I do know is that it’s unacceptably high. We simply can’t tolerate these kinds of actions, and continue to promote our programs as having the integrity that we all expect of them.

JEFFREY BROWN: In all, at least 10 major programs have faced investigations or punishment in recent months. And last year, the University of Southern California was forced to give up its 2004 national championship, after an investigation found that star player Reggie Bush had received improper benefits from a sports agent.

But questions about ethics appear to have done little to diminish the game’s popularity. Stadiums will be packed this weekend, and with recent billion-dollar TV deals, college football has never been more prosperous.