The University of Miami declared eight student-athletes — all believed to be football players — ineligible Thursday and has asked the NCAA to initiate the reinstatement process, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation.
Quarterback Jacory Harris and star linebacker Sean Spence are two of the ineligible athletes, the source said.
Another five football players were not declared ineligible by the university because it is believed the impermissible benefits each allegedly received from former UM booster Nevin Shapiro totaled less than $100 — meaning they can pay it back, usually by donating to a charity. However, UM could impose additional penalties, including suspensions.
In order for UM to ensure that those deemed ineligible have a chance to play Sept. 5 in the opener at Maryland without risking severe penalties by the NCAA, UM had to declare them ineligible.
The NCAA will now review each player’s case and either reinstate them — every case is handled individually — or rule how many games they have to sit out.
The player rulings are separate from the investigation into the university’s alleged wrongdoings involving convicted felon Shapiro.
Harris, 21, and Spence, 21, are both seniors and both graduated from Miami Northwestern High, where Spence’s father Sam is a physical education teacher. Spence’s mother, Crystal, is the principal of Hialeah Gardens Middle School. When reached by phone, Crystal Spence said she had not heard the news.
“If that’s the case we don’t agree with it,’’ she said. “They shouldn’t penalize the students who are young and impressionable. What about the adults? From my understanding the president of the school and others have taken financial contributions [from Shapiro] and were allowed to return the funds. They didn’t lose their jobs or get suspended from work for a week or two weeks.
“Some students do make mistakes and I believe when you knowingly do wrong you should suffer the consequences. But I just don’t think the kids should take the fall for everything that has gone on when it’s at a higher level. If a person is hanging around the campus, if he’s allowed to run out of the Orange Bowl tunnel and if he has free access to the school, how are you supposed to know that this is a person you should not be associated with?”
Yahoo! Sports first reported that Shapiro, now in prison for running a $930 million Ponzi scheme, allegedly provided thousands of impermissible benefits to at least 72 athletes from 2002 through 2010. Shapiro said he took Spence and other players to dinner at Benihana in 2008, to the Cheetah strip club in 2008, provided food and entertainment to Spence and others at his $6 million mansion in Miami Beach, and paid for entertainment at a bowling alley over a weekend that included a “bowling for dollars’’ tournament.
“I know he never took money,’’ Crystal Spence said. “And he told me he never went to a strip club with him.”
Harris’ father Rodney said he was unaware of any UM action and that he hadn’t spoken to Jacory on Thursday night. But Rodney Harris said when he asked his son earlier this week about the investigation, “all Jacory said was he was trusting in the coaches and leaving it in God’s hands. Now, we have to wait and see.’’
Jacory Harris allegedly had food and drinks at Shapiro’s mansion, played in pool tournaments for cash at Shapiro’s home and received drinks and VIP access in nightclubs.
UM president Donna Shalala said earlier this week that 15 players were being investigated by the NCAA. At least one of them, DeQuan Jones, is a basketball player.
The 10 football players, besides Harris and Spence, who, according to Yahoo! Sports, may have violated NCAA rules are defensive players Marcus Forston, Ray-Ray Armstrong, Vaughn Telemaque, Adewale Ojomo, Olivier Vernon, Marcus Robinson and JoJo Nicolas. The other offensive players are Travis Benjamin, Aldarius Johnson and Dyron Dye.
Earlier Thursday, University of Miami football coach Al Golden spoke to the media for the first time in five days, saying he was not ready to distribute his depth chart — the ranking of players by position — and that coaches were “going to go on coaching our team until we hear from the NCAA. We’ve cooperated fully. It’s out of our hands right now. And as soon as we hear from them, we’ll release the information to you and go from there.’’
When asked if any or all of the current football players in question had been declared ineligible by UM, Golden said, “Again, by rule, I believe that has to happen. But I’m not going to comment on the university or NCAA. It’s an ongoing process right now. Our job is to cooperate right now.’’
UM spokeswoman Margot Winick said she had no information regarding the situation and that UM associate athletic director for communications Chris Freet was handling eligibility questions. Freet did not reply to a text message asking if UM had declared any of its players ineligible.
“We’re just coaching the team, trying to move the team forward,’’ Golden said. “We’ll make sure we practice enough guys because we really don’t know what the future brings, and hopefully we’ll find out pretty quickly here in the near future if there are any penalties or suspensions and we’ll adjust accordingly.’’
All the players in question practiced Thursday, Golden said.