SI Vault
Robert Sullivan
December 21, 1987
Miami president Tad Foote is making his school face issues even tougher than Oklahoma
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December 21, 1987

Time To Play Foote Ball?

Miami president Tad Foote is making his school face issues even tougher than Oklahoma

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That kind of heretical thinking by the president may have been what prompted a confidential memo from assistant academic support coordinator Steve Carichoff to Jankovich that was obtained in October by The Miami Herald . The memo read, in part, "If...the standards are going to continue to rise along the lines of a ' Harvard of the South,' then it appears to me that the athletic department and the University of Miami administration and faculty will be on a very real collision course. From an athletic department standpoint, it could mean that our department could become another Rice or Northwestern—what a thought!"

If the collision Carichoff mentions takes place, Foote could get the worst of it in the view of Richard McEwen, a Miami trustee who is also chairman of the university's athletic advisory board. McEwen said last week that Foote's academic mission is not "cast in stone" and that the moment the athletic program falters, the trustees will step in. "We must field competitive athletic teams in Division I-A," says McEwen. "It isn't a negotiable subject at all. I don't think the board will settle for a Stanford or a Duke athletic program in football."

On Nov. 9 Miami's executive committee met with Foote. McEwen was at the meeting, and he says several trustees felt that Foote's reforms "could go too far." McEwen adds, "If we can pull it off the way Tad wants to go, great. But if the curriculum does not allow for success in both, I know the trustees will insist on revisiting the question."

The resolution adopted by the board at that meeting essentially expressed a commitment both to academics and to athletics. The board obviously did not feel it had to make a choice between the two. Not yet.

The University of Miami, which has an enrollment of 13,341, was founded in 1926 and spent most of its first five decades cultivating a reputation as Suntan U., the original party-animal school. Foote, who had been dean of the Washington University Law School in St. Louis, became Miami's president in 1981 and has committed himself to "building a genuinely great academic institution."

By most measurable standards, Foote has made considerable progress. Ten years ago the combined (verbal and math) mean Scholastic Achievement Test score for a Miami freshman entering in the fall was 940; today it is 1104. Ten years ago 11% of Miami freshmen had combined SATs of 1200 or more; today 24% of the freshmen do. Ten years ago 20% of incoming students had been in the top 20% of their high school class; today 57% have been. Ten years ago about 20% had combined SATs of less than 800; today that figure has been sharply reduced. In the early 1980s Miami spent half a million dollars on academic scholarships for 150 bright students; last year it spent $2.5 million on scholarships to attract 600 academically exceptional freshmen. Last week the school celebrated the selection of its first-ever Rhodes scholar, biology major Ronald Ritter of Akron, Ohio.

As Miami has become academically more demanding, the gap has widened between the brightest students and those at the other end of the spectrum, which includes many of the football players. Some players are nowhere near prepared for college. The academic records of six players who competed this fall became public last April when the records were subpoenaed in connection with the case of safety Selwyn Brown, who was charged (the charge was subsequently dismissed for lack of evidence) with sexual battery against a Miami freshman at the football dorm. Of the six—Brown, Irvin, Donnie Ellis, Darrell Fullington, Cleveland Gary and Alfredo Roberts—Brown had the highest verbal SAT score, 270. Ellis had the lowest, 200, the score one gets for just showing up.

No doubt spurred in part by the four-year-old NCAA rule requiring that athletes have a minimum combined SAT score of 700 to be eligible as freshmen, Miami has been attracting football players with generally higher scores than in the past. Nevertheless, because of the rising academic standards for the student body as a whole, the football players are falling further and further behind. "An athlete with an SAT of 700 is now competing with an SAT of 1100, not 900," says John T. Fitzgerald, a professor of religion and one of a group of Miami faculty members committed to raising the school's academic standards. Johnson acknowledges the growing disparity. "Our freshman class this year is as good as any we have brought in," he says. "But as good as it is, it's still light-years behind the rest of the student body."

Players often have to scramble to keep up. "They're not giving a lot of multiple-choice tests anymore," says Roberts, a fifth-year senior. "Now it's essays where you've got to know the material. Football demands a lot of your time. Passing demands a lot of your time. You're bucking heads to keep up."

Brian Smith, a tight end for the 'Canes last season, says, "I felt out of my league at Miami. I used to talk to Mom about it, and she'd say, 'Pretend you're in high school and just do the paper.' But after one hour of study my mind would start wandering off. I just couldn't study an hour at a time." Smith had disciplinary and emotional problems at Miami, and, according to police, he attempted suicide last December by taking 18 Tylenol tablets. He dropped out of school.

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