The NCAA vs. Miami was a 15-round bout decided by a head-butt.
The NCAA, ahead on points, screwed up and got itself disqualified. The Hurricanes, both eyes blackened, were handed a victory they cannot honestly feel good about.
That's the takeway from the marathon investigation of Miami football and basketball. It began in August 2011 with a bombshell report by Yahoo Sports, and it concluded with a whimper out of Indianapolis on Tuesday.
NCAA committee on infractions chairman Britton Banowsky called it a "frustrating, disappointing chapter for the institution and the NCAA." He got that right. This was lose-lose for all involved. No winners, plenty of casualties, just a few survivors.
The Miami football program was given a nine-scholarship penalty over the next three years, which should produce eye rolls at USC and Ohio State. Former basketball coach Frank Haith, now at Missouri, was suspended five games for failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance, which should produce cusswords from Bruce Pearl and Kelvin Sampson. There also is a three-scholarship penalty for the basketball program over the next three years.
[Yahoo Sports probe: Miami booster spells out illicit benefits to players]
Here was the opening sentence of the NCAA news release: "The University of Miami lacked institutional control when it did not monitor the activities of a major booster, the men's basketball and football coaching staffs, student-athletes and prospects for a decade, according to findings by the Division I Committee on Infractions."
A decade of no institutional control. Coaches involved. Booster running amok.
And the penalty is nine football scholarships lost over three years.
That tells you how badly the NCAA compromised its own position. In an era of tough presidential talk about cracking down on cheaters, what should have been a Death Penalty punishment instead ends with a tap on the wrist.
(The great irony here: former Miami athletic director Paul Dee, now deceased, was something of a hanging judge while serving as the NCAA's committee on infractions chair, dealing out strict penalties. Now his school is skating away from a serious crackdown for violations that occurred on his watch.)
The school quickly announced there would be no appeal. Which is a clear indication Miami knows what it's gotten away with. The school was full of self-righteous bellicosity last winter,when the NCAA was announcing the internal review of its investigation, but that defiant tone was nowhere to be found Tuesday.
It's true that The U self-imposed significant penalties: a two-year postseason ban that included not just missing bowls, but missing a chance to play in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game last year. That is significant, and Banowsky noted how much that swayed the NCAA's final ruling.
But there was an excellent chance when this began that Miami football would be a smoking crater when the NCAA was finished. Instead the program is in fine shape – due in part to the great work by football coach Al Golden, but also due to the fact that NCAA enforcement had to toss out large sections of its case.
[From Rivals.com: What's the recruiting impact of the Miami verdict?]
The NCAA's internal review concluded that the enforcement staff violated policy by employing booster Nevin Shapiro's attorney to help gather information. It was a significant error, but president Mark Emmert compounded it with a somewhat frantic public announcement of the internal investigation – all but painting himself into a corner of having to take drastic action regardless of the findings.
The drastic action turned out to be the firing of enforcement head Julie Roe Lach, which in turn helped lead to a mass exodus of lead investigators. The turnover has lessened the NCAA's experience and ability to investigate, which is a tacit green light to schools to take chances.
So this entire exercise has greatly diminished the power and credibility of the NCAA. But it has not elevated Miami.
Any Hurricanes fans who want to believe their program was wrongly accused by a convicted felon, go for it. Denial is a lovely place to live. But if the reams of evidence in the original Yahoo report weren't enough, you may want to read a story in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel on Tuesday. Former Hurricane Randy Phillips says, yes, the allegations of rampant payola from Shapiro were all true.
"We were playing hard for Nevin, for the money," Phillips told the newspaper. … "They couldn't recruit without Nevin. It got to the point where Nevin was the recruiter. Every top star player came through Nevin's house."
That's not the word of a ponzi schemer. That's the word of a former player, name attached.
[Gallery: See photos of Nevin Shapiro partying with athletes]
Miami has wisely refrained from treating this as any kind of great day, even if the fans are thinking that way with an undefeated team that is still at least on the fringe of the national title picture. At the very least, the Hurricanes could go to a very nice bowl game.
But the administration put out a series of restrained statements, and Miami canceled its normal Tuesday media availability. Better to let the investigation results speak for themselves than have any players or coaches inappropriately popping off about vindication or victory.
There is nothing to celebrate Tuesday. Not in Coral Gables, and certainly not in Indianapolis. The only relief is that this unsatisfying chapter in college sports history is finally over.