In College Football, Miami Comes Under Fire

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Robert Siegel talks to sportswriter Stefan Fatsis about the rash of recent scandals in college football and a change to kickoffs in the NFL.

MELISSA BLOCK, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: And I'm Robert Siegel. The opening kickoff of the college football season is still a couple of weeks away, but for better or worse, the sport has been very much in the news this summer.

Sports writer Stefan Fatsis joins us now to discuss a few of the biggest stories in football. Hi, Stefan.

STEFAN FATSIS: Hey, Robert.

SIEGEL: We heard earlier this week about a slew of allegations involving the University of Miami's football program. I want you to remind us what's going on there.

FATSIS: Well, this is the case of a former Miami booster who's now serving prison time in connection with a big Ponzi scheme. He told federal and NCAA investigators that he gave millions of dollars in cash, jewelry, entertainment, prostitutes and other impermissible benefits to six dozen University of Miami athletes over the course of eight years, 2002 to 2010.

And the probe was revealed in a long story this week by Yahoo Sports. Yesterday, Yahoo reported that the NCAA has told the University of Miami that it might make an exception to its four year statute of limitations on violations and that could make the university susceptible to the so-called death penalty rule, where it could be banned from a sport or sports.

SIEGEL: University of Miami is the latest big football program under scrutiny in recent months, but we've talked about some of the others, Southern California, Ohio State, Auburn, Oregon, Michigan, North Carolina.

Is the NCAA actually doing anything to get a better handle on rules breaking?

FATSIS: Well, there's a new president of the NCAA, Mark Emmert, and he's been promoting stiffer penalties. He just applied more rigorous academic requirements for teams.

But there's really only so much the NCAA can do. Its investigative staff is very small. Its rule book is thick and it's bizarre. Boise State was penalized recently because existing football players let some incoming football players crash on the couch or the floor of their apartments for a few days or weeks before school started.

And also, the forces lined up against the NCAA are just huge, from boosters like this guy in Miami to agents who are trying to curry favor with players to a system that a lot of participants, including players, believe is hypocritical. A lot of these athletes think they should get a piece of the billions of dollars in revenue that college sports generate.

SIEGEL: Now, the National Football League, the admittedly professional football league, stepped into one of those college football scandals this week. The league announced that it would suspend a player who isn't even on an NFL team for breaking NCAA rules. Tell us about Terrelle Pryor and the NFL.

FATSIS: Yeah. Pryor was a former quarterback for Ohio State. Earlier this year, he and other players were discovered to have received thousands of dollars in cash and benefits from a tattoo parlor owner.

Pryor wound up leaving Ohio State, but after the NFL had already held its draft of college players, so he applied for what the NFL calls its supplemental draft. The league agreed to let him in on the condition that he would be suspended without pay for the first five games of the season. This was intended to send a message to players that they can't use the league as a way to duck punishment for wrongdoing in college, but it also raises a slew of questions about the power of the NFL to preemptively punish potential future employees for breaking rules that have nothing to do with the NFL.

Pryor's lawyer said he'll probably appeal the suspension, assuming that Pryor is selected in that supplemental draft, which will be held next week.

SIEGEL: In the minute that remains, we'll give a nod to the game on the field, actually. The National Football League, now having its preseason games, is witnessing a lot of complaint about a rules change involving the part of the game you and so few others love so much - kicking.

FATSIS: I love it when kicking's in the news, Robert. This rules change involved kick-offs and the league said it wanted to reduce injuries from collisions on what is the most dangerous play in the sport, the kickoff.

So it moved up by five yards where a kickoff team kicks the ball, to the 35 yard line from its own 30 yard line. The idea there is to reduce the number of kickoff returns, reduce the speed of players at impact, but a lot of coaches and fans don't like it. They say it cuts down on one of the most exciting plays in the game and it penalizes a team that is very good at returning the ball on kickoffs.

SIEGEL: It sounds like the NFL is getting closer to saying, look, just start - take the ball on the 20 and start playing. No kickoffs at all.

FATSIS: You know, that's certainly a direction that some coaches, including Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots, have implied or said outright, that the NFL wants to go.

I don't think this is a terrible rule, but strategically, I think with kickers now, they can boot the ball almost at will into the end zone, so I think what they're going to see is teams that think they've got a good coverage unit, they're going to sort of have the kicker just sort of chip the ball up toward the goal line and force a return. If there's a great returner on the other team, boot it into the end zone and let's just start the next possession.

SIEGEL: Have a great weekend, Stefan.

FATSIS: Thanks, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's Stefan Fatsis, who is the author of "A Few Seconds of Panic: A Sports Writer Plays in the NFL." He joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports.

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