Wed 7 Sep 2011
The University of Miami football scandal has rocked the college sports community, players, and coaches for almost a month now.
In mid-August Yahoo! Sports reported the corruption within the University of Miami football program- detailing a UM football booster’s showering of 72 players (and even administrators!) with lavish gifts including parties at night clubs, prostitutes, jewelry, clothing, and electronics. Nevin Shapiro, the culprit who is currently serving time for a $930 million dollar Ponzi scheme, wined and dined the players to get into the “in crowd,” and develop a posse of top players turning top recruits and then pro. Shapiro is serving a 20-year prison sentence for his actions- but the University of Miami as a college, community, and brand is facing serious repercussions. In fact, in their September 5th game against Maryland, certain UM players who were deemed ineligible to play because of their part in the scandal left many inexperienced freshmen taking over their positions. The investigation will continue on.
The scandal floats like a black cloud over campus, and University President Donna E. Shalala has only recently instated a crisis communications plan. As WPLG-Miami reporter Michael Putney writes in his opinion piece in The Miami Herald on August 23rd, “UM President Donna Shalala certainly didn’t look good the other day striding around the campus with a pasted-on grin as she welcomed reporters, none of whose questions she would answer…Not even ‘no comment.’” Even if Shalala didn’t have all of the facts, we at Boardroom Communications would have advised her to at least let reporters know she was on their side. She could have said, “I have no comment at this time other than to say that we are taking this very seriously and investigating it,” or something of this nature, from the very start. Putney puts it well, asking, “Why didn’t Shalala just call a news conference, say she wouldn’t be answering questions and read the limp, ineffectual statement her office issued…?” Maybe the media would’ve given her a break if she went humbly to the camera right away.
Then again, it probably wasn’t too fun greeting the parents and students of the Class of 2015 amidst the biggest scandal in University of Miami history.
Shalala did pen a letter to the community, and has made two videos reaching out to the university and community at large- directly addressing the incident from her own office. “When our values come into question, we only have one option,” she says in the video. “Do what is right and have confidence in tomorrow. The allegations leveled…are serious. And we are treating them with the urgency and priority they warrant.” Shalala also notes that the NCAA has instructed her and the university to not yet comment on specifics, and her personal frustration with being “unable to speak more freely and answer questions.”
Though initially faltering (and getting beaten for it), Shalala is starting to take the right steps by confidently looking straight into the camera and accepting responsibility for this scandal. When CEOS and corporate executives are faced with any sort of catastrophe, more often than not there is simply a press release, a general statement sent to publications and mass media, and nothing more. Shalala has employed a simple yet successful public relations strategy- appearing personal, humbled, and intimate with her audience and community. It’s obvious that she and the University of Miami administration are trying very hard to remain proactive in an attempt to redeem themselves and the reputation of their college. Thankfully, their current coach Al Golden remains untainted by the scandal- having arrived long after Shapiro’s departure. If he takes the reins and focuses on the future, maybe, just maybe, Miami can recover.