Miami's brawl was bad, but don't attack the program
Posted: Wednesday October 18, 2006 12:30PM; Updated: Saturday October 21, 2006 5:24PM
Anthony Reddick leaves Miami's practice after offering a public apology for swinging his helmet during the Canes' brawl with FIU.
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I thought I'd said my piece about the Miami-FIU brawl in a blog entry I posted Monday afternoon. I said it was an embarrassment to college football. I said that the one-game suspensions for most of the Hurricanes players weren't nearly stiff enough. And I said it's deplorable that some members of the Miami community had the audacity to rationalize the players' behavior.
I stand by everything I said then. But now, I'm about to do something that is apparently considered sacrilege amongst the college football establishment: I am going to defend the University of Miami football program.
For me, the incident itself wasn't nearly as stunning as what I've watched transpire in the days since: prominent media figures calling for Miami to receive the death penalty, fans writing in to my blog and Mailbag calling the Hurricanes "a gang of criminals" and "a penal-league team," repeated use of the phrase "Thug U."
Reading and listening to such virulent backlash, you would think Miami is the only program in the country that's ever experienced disciplinary problems.
Look, what happened at the Orange Bowl on Saturday night was horrific; no one can deny that. It's one thing to defend your scrawny holder after he's just been jumped on by the other team; it's another thing entirely to empty the bench, swing helmets, stomp on people, etc. But to use the incident as Exhibit A in the case for Miami being "Thug U" is not only unfair, it's downright hypocritical unless you know for a fact that your own favorite program is 100 percent skeleton-free.
You might not believe this -- you might not want to believe this -- but over the past decade, Miami has had fewer player arrests or NCAA-related incidents than almost any other major program in the country. Miami has not had 20-plus incidents involving shoplifting, assault, gun charges and failed drug tests over the past two years, as Tennessee has. Miami has not had to dismiss a star player for earning money through a phony job, as Oklahoma has. Miami has not had a star linebacker accused of sexual assault on the eve of its bowl game as Florida State did last year. And Miami's most recent Academic Progress Rate (956) placed it in the top 20 to 30 percent of all Division I football programs.
To the Miami lynch mob, however, none of this seems nearly as relevant as, say, its tawdry sportsmanship in a Cotton Bowl played 15 years ago, or the fact that the 'Canes showed up to a Fiesta Bowl two decades ago wearing army fatigues, or an NCAA Pell grant scandal that occurred more than a decade ago. As one major newspaper put it this week: "Miami has been a dysfunctional program for over two decades with only slight detours into decorum. All the talk of a cleaned-up program, of a sharper image, is just hot air. The brawl illustrates that."
What I've learned more than anything this week is that there is a deep, deep cultural divide between Miami and mainstream college football. Miami's program is not like everybody else's. Whereas schools like Alabama and Michigan pride themselves on traditions built over 100 or more years, Miami's "tradition" sprouted up virtually overnight. When I go to a game at a Florida or an Auburn, I see gray-haired boosters in sweaters and women in sundresses tailgating on a picturesque patch of campus. When I go to a Miami game, I see guys in jerseys and girls in tank tops tailgating on a muddy grass field next to a decrepit stadium in one of the worst neighborhoods in Miami. Is it any wonder the former is so adamantly unaccepting of the latter?
The fact is, a large part of "The U's" identity derives from its "street" roots under Howard Schnellenberger, who built a powerhouse by not only recruiting the kind of athletes who grew up with little to no discipline but also, along with successors Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson, encouraged their brash, often over-the-top showmanship that marked so many of Miami's great teams in the '80s and early '90s. While the type of individuals Miami recruits has changed, that freewheeling style has remained, annoying and offending college football's more buttoned-down establishment. For the most part, however, it's been fairly harmless stuff -- touchdown dances, taunting, stomping on the Louisville logo, etc.
What happened Saturday night was not harmless, and Miami deserves to be harshly criticized because of it. Both the school and the ACC deserve even harsher criticism for administering such laughable punishments. But come on -- this almost militant backlash has gone way too far. I believe Larry Coker when he says, "We have not just good kids, but great kids here," because most programs I cover have predominantly good kids (along with a few inevitable bad apples), and my interactions over the years with Miami's players have given me no reason to believe they're any different.
Obviously, that doesn't change the fact that there's definitely a discipline problem on that team right now. Coker, AD Paul Dee and president Donna Shalala need to take a good, hard look and ask themselves: Why is that? In the meantime, I'd encourage the rest of us to also take a good, hard look at something as well. With all the various disciplinary incidents that occur around the country season after season, why such animosity toward this one program in particular?