It’s one of the most often repeated statements regarding NCAA enforcement investigations: “The NCAA doesn’t have subpoena power.” While it’s true that the NCAA can’t force someone to cooperate with their investigations when the individual is not directly connected to or employed by the institution, they can compel current student-athletes, coaches and administrators to comply and cooperate.
The Department of Justice can—under pain of a federal prison sentence—interview anyone and the only thing stopping them from dragging the truth out of witnesses or the accused are the Fifth Amendment protections against self incrimination.
Their involvement often breaks a case wide open and makes enforcement’s job easier. Violations that would never have seen the light of day are dragged out and documented when the power of subpoena is in play.
A news report from NBC Miami explains that the investigators who uncovered the Ponzi scheme run by Miami Hurricanes booster Nevin Shapiro have been in contact with school officials and plan to interview current and former student-athletes as well.
Gil Childers, who was a part of the New Jersey prosecution team that investigated Shapiro's $930 million Ponzi scheme, told NBC Miami that the recent allegations that have surfaced about UM were not new news to him and that Shapiro's connections to the university were not that hard to find.
"We did reach out to the university and that did include some people who were directly involved in the Athletic Department," Childers said.
Shapiro recently alleged that he provided improper benefits to 72 current and former UM student athletes, mostly football players. The NCAA has initiated an investigation into the claims, which could result in major violations and stiff punishment for the Hurricanes.
Many have speculated that Shapiro is flipping on the U so he can have his 20-year prison sentence reduced. That might not necessarily be the case.
"A lot of what is in the media, while it may be a revelation to the public, it is not a revelation to the government," he said.
He also said they were ready to call in former and current players to bolster their case against Shapiro.
This is not the first time that an NCAA investigation has included the involvement of the federal government. Both the Michigan Fab Five and Northwestern cases from the 1990’s and earlly 2000’s were the results of federal probes into criminal wrongdoing. Most recently, a federal probe into a tattoo shop owner led to the Ohio State Tattoogate scandal. Last November, federal agents interviewed at least one figure in the ongoing Cam Newton recruitment investigation, and were said to be interested in Auburn booster Milton McGregor.
Not all NCAA violations constitute a federal crime, but it’s difficult to come up with an instance where someone connected to a member school committed a crime and didn’t violate NCAA rules. And while the federal government isn’t required to cooperate with NCAA enforcement staff, case history shows that they do so, anyway.
"When they get involved, the NCAA's job becomes a lot easier," Jim Delany, Big Ten commissioner, said in a USA Today article. "We're not talking about freedom of information. We're talking about subpoena power. If you lie to an FBI agent, you are violating the law. You can go to jail if you are caught doing that."
If a member school is in violation of NCAA by-laws, the blood must run cold when Yahoo! Sports’ Charles Robinson has left a voicemail message seeking an interview. But getting a call from an FBI agent may well be the kiss of death.