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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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Some Miami players facing the sort of academic pressures described by Smith resort to cheating. "Cheating seemed to be endemic on the campus when I was there," says Alan Beals, academic counselor for the football team from 1985 until he quit in the spring of '86 out of disgust, he says, with the direction of the program. "It wasn't just in the football team, either," he says. "In a history class, the whole class, including six football players, had the exam in advance."

Ostensibly to help athletes in the classroom, the Miami athletic department has beefed up its academic support system. In 1984, the last year of Howard Schnellenberger's tenure as the Hurricanes' coach, there was one full-time academic staff person in the department. Now there are six, including a psychologist. The university claims that 73% of last spring's senior football players received degrees, compared with a reported high of less than 30% in the Schnellenberger era. Not included in the figure are those players recruited four or five years ago who never made it to their senior year.

But there is evidence that the support system, which has its headquarters in the campus tennis complex and is run solely by the athletic department, is less concerned with educating athletes than keeping them eligible. Dave Alekna, a starting offensive guard and academic All-America in 1986, recalls a tutoring session he attended at which an instructor was reviewing the next day's test: "He'd tell you the number of the question, then say, 'Work the problem in this certain way.' When you got the test it was the same problem, just the numbers were a little different."

John Ungham, a senior who left the team last year after some minor run-ins with the coaching staff, says he had papers written for him by study skills coordinator Gale Lang. "She literally did the paper," says Ungham. "If you picked the topic, say football, then she'd say, 'Write a sentence.' You'd try it, then she'd make it grammatical, and then do the next one and the next." He says he had 20 or 30 papers done in this manner and that several of his teammates were similarly helped by Lang.

"I teach them where to put the whereases, the thises and thats," says Lang. "They're doing the work, they're writing the paper, and they don't even realize it. That's great!"

The athletic department's self-contained tutoring program is a glaring symptom of the football team's near-total isolation from the rest of the Miami student body. When asked if getting athletes involved with their classmates is essential to their scholastic improvement, Fitzgerald answers, "Of course."

Foote's desire to have the football team be part of the fabric of the university is, at present, unrealistic. The undergraduate population is 7% black; the grad school is 4% black. But 57% of the football team is black. "You don't run across too many black students here," says safety Bennie Blades. Blades, a two-time All-America, says he keeps to himself when he's not with the team. "You might say something, it might not be taken the right way by whites," he says. "I tend not to hang around the student center too much, unless I'm doing something, like playing a video game."

Most of Johnson's players live in the football dorm. Beals lived as a counselor in the dorm in the spring of 1986. He recalls, "It was like being the caretaker of an Old West bordello. The team's exploits off the field seemed even more impressive than those on the field."

Johnson has banned women—indeed, all outside visitors—from the dorm, though the university has no official visiting restrictions at any of its residences. And the building was spruced up a bit last summer. "They slapped some paint on," says Johnson. "It's still nothing like the other dorms." Indeed, $20 million has been spent to convert Miami's other dorms into "residential colleges," each with a faculty member as master.

"It's based on the Ivy League system," says Foote. "It's been wonderfully exciting and successful." Fitzgerald, who is master of the oldest residential college, is asked how many football players are in the colleges. "I think there's perhaps one," he says. "The kicker, Greg Cox. There might be one or two freshmen." Should there be more? "Of course," Fitzgerald says again.

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