NCAA punishment of Miami a first for NIL era

AP photo by Rona Wise / Miami's Katie Meier coaches during a Hurricanes women's basketball game against Notre Dame on Dec. 29 in Coral Gables, Fla.
AP photo by Rona Wise / Miami's Katie Meier coaches during a Hurricanes women's basketball game against Notre Dame on Dec. 29 in Coral Gables, Fla.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. — The University of Miami women's basketball program has been placed on probation for one year after the school and the NCAA said coaches inadvertently helped arrange impermissible contact between a booster and two players who signed with the Hurricanes.

Friday's revelation of the punishment via an NCAA release marked the first time the association has announced a penalty related to an investigation into name, image and likeness deals.

The NCAA probed the actions of booster John Ruiz, who has signed several Hurricanes athletes to NIL deals. Among them are basketball players Haley and Hanna Cavinder, who transferred to Miami after meeting with Ruiz — though the sisters told the NCAA the meeting had nothing to do with their decision to play for the Hurricanes.

According to the release, the NCAA and Miami worked through a "negotiated resolution" to end the saga, but the Division I Committee on Infractions panel wanted the Hurricanes to agree to more sanctions than what were ultimately handed down, saying it was "troubled" by "the absence of a disassociation of the involved booster." The NCAA said the violation stemmed from Miami coach Katie Meier having helped facilitate a meeting between the Cavinders and Ruiz, unaware that he was a booster.

"Boosters are involved with prospects and student-athletes in ways the NCAA membership has never seen or encountered," the panel said in the release. "In that way, addressing impermissible booster conduct is critical, and the disassociation penalty presents an effective penalty available to the (committee on infractions)."

Meier will not have to miss any more games; she served a three-game suspension to start the season in anticipation of the NCAA's ruling. Miami agreed to various other minor sanctions, including a small fine — $5,000, plus 1% of the women's basketball budget, which the school does not release as a private institution — and a slight reduction in what's allowed in recruiting.

The NCAA didn't name Ruiz in its ruling Friday but referenced an April 13 tweet by a booster that included a photo of him and two recruits. On that date, Ruiz posted a photo of himself with the Cavinder twins after a dinner at his home.

"These girls decided where to go, no one else did it for them," Ruiz wrote Friday on Twitter.

The Cavinders, who have an enormous social media following and several NIL deals, signed their letter of intent about a week after the dinner. They are not subject to any sanctions. Both are in their first season with the Hurricanes after transferring from Fresno State.

"Although the parties asserted that a disassociation penalty would be inappropriate based on an impermissible meal and an impermissible contact, today's new NIL-related environment represents a new day," the NCAA said.

The Cavinders became stars of the NIL phenomenon as soon as it became an option for NCAA athletes on July 1, 2021. Boost Mobile signed them immediately, touting that move with a giant advertisement in New York's Times Square. Many other deals soon followed.

Meier said Friday in a statement distributed by the university that she has led programs "with integrity" and has been "a collaborative partner with the NCAA."

"Collegiate athletics is in transformation, and any inadvertent mistake I made was prior to a full understanding of implemented guardrails and the clarification issued by the NCAA in May," Meier said.

The NCAA said it started an investigation in May and interviewed Ruiz in June, but the association cannot order Miami to disassociate itself from Ruiz based on a meeting that occurred before rules were changed last year.

The NCAA said it "will strongly consider disassociation penalties in future cases involving NIL-adjacent conduct."