On Frank Haith, teflon and empathy

Joel Auerbach

Fine, let's talk about Frank Haith's punishment

Miami Herald: Read The NCAA's Infractions Report
MUtigers.com: Statements From Mizzou Athletics
The Trib: NCAA suspends Haith for five games
The Trib: Haith cites desire for closure in decision not to appeal
KC Star: NCAA suspends Missouri basketball coach Frank Haith five games
KC Star: A lot of gray matter in NCAA’s ruling on Frank Haith
Post-Dispatch: Haith suspended 5 games
Post-Dispatch: Haith won't appeal five-game suspension
The Missourian: Missouri basketball coach Frank Haith: 5-game suspension 'signifies closure'
The Missourian: Frank Haith got off 'easy,' says son of ex-Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl
PowerMizzou: NCAA suspends Haith five games
PowerMizzou: Haith responds to NCAA
PowerMizzou: Eric Bossi on the conclusion of the investigation
PowerMizzou: PMTV-HD: Investigation Over
The Dagger: Frank Haith’s wrist slap of a suspension is far too lenient given his rules violations
SI.com (Stewart Mandel): Miami case shows how much perception of the NCAA has changed

Of all the words I've read about Frank Haith and the NCAA's case against him yesterday, I thought these were the most telling:

1. From a footnote on page 19 of the NCAA's inscrutable Public Infractions Report:

Former head men's basketball coach: Did we win enough games for the Miami supporters? You read the papers, I don't think they felt that great about what we did there. I didn't recruit, I didn't get the five-star guys. And let's, like I said, let's don't be naive about the level. Our business is corrupt and [sic?] how we got to deal with these guys at the high level.

2. From Mizzou's official statement, as posted on MUtigers.com:

BRADY DEATON, UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI CHANCELLOR

"Given our respect for the principles of compliance in intercollegiate sports, we will not appeal the sanctions placed on our Head Men's Basketball Coach, Frank Haith. [...] I can firmly say that since April of 2011 when he joined our family, Coach Haith has reaffirmed our values of compliance in every way, and we fully expect that to continue." [...]

MIKE ALDEN, DIRECTOR OF ATHLETICS

"We certainly recognize the serious nature of the allegations included in today's report. [...] During his time here, Coach Haith has been forthright with me and our compliance staff throughout this long process." [...]

MARY AUSTIN, SENIOR ASSOCIATE ATHLETICS DIRECTOR - COMPLIANCE

"We have reviewed the NCAAs ruling on the University of Miami's infractions case, particularly its ruling on the allegations against Frank Haith. [...] It's very important to note that Coach Haith has been diligent and consistent in his efforts to promote an atmosphere of compliance at Mizzou."

I've always been very empathetic toward Frank Haith when it came to the investigation. I've also assumed a certain degree of guilt.

Frank Haith had been a college basketball assistant for 19 years when he interviewed for the Miami head coaching job. He was 38 years old. He was part of successful programs at both Wake Forest and Texas, and he certainly felt he was ready to become a head coach somewhere. The Miami job opened up, and it had to seem pretty attractive. It was in the ACC, and it would seem to have a built in draw for pulling in 19-year old athletes. Leonard Hamilton had seen some decent success there -- three straight NCAA Tournaments and two top-25 finishes from 1998-00 -- and though Perry Clark had struggled (one NCAA trip in four seasons), Haith had to figure he could make something of this job.

Every school has boosters, some solid, some slimy. I'm sure Haith knew that Miami would have its share of both. But he probably wasn't banking on the presence of Nevin Shapiro, who was not only the slimiest of slimy boosters, but who was introduced to Haith via a development officer. Part of this job was going to be dealing with Shapiro in one form or another. And when someone offers to donate $50,000 to your program, you accept it first and worry about the consequences later. The scuzzy part of every basketball coaching job was terribly scuzzy at Miami in the mid-'00s.

Haith went along with it. Of course he did. It's part of the job, and it probably became a larger part of the job when Haith got off to a slow start (16-13 in 2004-05, 18-16 in 2005-06, 12-20 in 2006-07). He definitely went to dinners and strip clubs with Shapiro. He may have allowed Shapiro to "donate" money toward the recruitment of Daquan Jones or whoever else.

The one thing you typically don't have to worry about with boosters is that their lips will get loose, that they will get in trouble with the law, demand some of their money back, and attempt to extort even more money when they really get into trouble. In accepting the Miami job in the first place, at that specific time in the program's history, Haith clinched that all of these things would happen.

Any time you speed, you run the risk of getting pulled over, even if everybody on the road is going the same speed as you are. In Nevin Shapiro, it's quite possible that Frank Haith got pulled over for speeding because the guy in the passenger seat flipped off a cop on the way by. He really might be completely innocent of all charges levied against him -- he is certainly remaining publicly defiant of the charges -- but he might not. "Everybody else is doing it" is never a morally acceptable reason for doing something, but it's always somewhat understandable when your job is on the line.

We technically don't know what Frank Haith did or didn't do. That he "promoted an atmosphere of non-compliance" is perhaps not too debatable, even in the sense that nobody was going to promote an atmosphere of compliance at that time and in that place. But beyond that, it's still unclear. There are no lie detectors involved here, nor will there ever be. Haith's footnoted statement above certainly suggests a little bit of "You're damn right I ordered the Code Red" guilt, but I struggle to hold that against him because of the empathy I mentioned above.

We do, however, know that a) the NCAA believes it caught Haith in a lie, and b) it decided not to give Haith the Bruce Pearl treatment, i.e. the show-cause "you lied" penalty. There are perhaps plenty of reasons why that may be.

Maybe the NCAA knew that its own investigation had been publicly scrutinized (and my goodness, justifiably so) to the point where harsh penalties simply wouldn't stand up to appeals and lawsuits. Perhaps the NCAA at some point came to realize that the Pearl treatment was too harsh (By the way, those complaining that Pearl was unfairly destroyed and also complaining that Haith wasn't given the same treatment need to ask themselves why, if they feel the NCAA made a mistake with Pearl, they'd want the NCAA to make the same mistake again.) This is only for investigators to answer, and they're not going to answer.

Basically, in the end, Frank Haith got out of jail for free. Despite the negative publicity from writers around the country -- many of whom were going to write the same "The NCAA got it wrong ... AGAIN" piece no matter what the final verdict was -- Haith gets a reasonably minor punishment considering the apparent contradictions. He will be invisible during Mizzou's first five games (home games versus SE Louisiana, Southern Illinois, Gardner-Webb, and IUPUI and a battle with Hawaii in Kansas City), and he will be in charge of the team just in time for the Tigers' trip to Las Vegas to face Northwestern. He will remain publicly defiant, and others will continue to assume he lied and basically got away with it. The world will keep spinning, and we'll just keep on making Haithers Gonna Hate jokes, moving on with our lives, and ignoring the fact that we really may have come pretty close to starting to look for a new basketball coach. (It's hard to imagine Missouri holding onto Haith if a show-cause penalty had been given.)

Basketball coaches wear suits made of teflon every day of the year; whether he agreed to pay recruits or not, Haith's suit worked just well enough. If it comes down to it, he probably won't be that lucky a second time. Hopefully it won't come down to it.

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