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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As his team prepares to meet Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, its second straight New Year's showdown for the national title, University of Miami coach Jimmy Johnson says, "This year was more satisfying." Miami president Edward T. (Tad) Foote, who is not always in agreement with Johnson, concurs: "I'm extremely proud of the team. They played great football, and with class. I was proud of the team last year as a football team, but obviously there were situations that embarrassed us."

You might remember some of the situations that occurred in 1986:

?A disturbing number of brushes with police. Some involved players still with the team. Defensive end Daniel Stubbs, who was named an All-America last week, was charged with a misdemeanor offense after being caught siphoning gas from a parked car on campus. He was sentenced to perform community service. Later a university discipline committee investigated charges that Stubbs had put a choke hold on a female dorm supervisor. He was ruled innocent. Linebacker George Mira Jr. was charged with misdemeanor battery on a police officer after a run-in with two campus cops. The charge was dropped in exchange for Mira's performing community service. Receiver Michael Irvin allegedly drove his car over the feet of two Miami law students, saying, one of the students told police, "I'll just run over you." The students refused medical treatment and did not press charges. These and nearly a dozen other incidents made it seem almost as if the Hurricane football team was at war with the rest of the university.

?Use of anabolic steroids. Police said a vial of testosterone cypionate was found in Mira's truck when he was arrested. The state's attorney determined that the vial belonged to a friend of Mira's, and a drug-possession charge against Mira was dropped. But several Miami players have told SI that as many as two thirds of last year's team members used steroids. Former equipment manager Marty Daly said last spring, "You'd come in and find syringes in the corner of the locker room." Players said they used steroids up to six weeks before last January's Fiesta Bowl but avoided detection by switching from oil-based to water-based steroids. Dr. Don Catlin of UCLA, who oversees the lab used for the NCAA testing program, confirms that water-based steroids, even when taken just a month before a test, might not be detected.

?Other disciplinary problems. On one occasion police were called to the football dorm to break up a disturbance involving as many as 40 players. Last year 47 Hurricanes made $8,346 worth of phone calls through an illegally obtained access-card number. MCI decided not to press charges when the players agreed to make restitution. The 'Canes further embarrassed themselves by showing up in Tempe for the Fiesta Bowl—in which they were upset by Penn State 14-10—clad in battle fatigues and by suddenly walking out of a cookout attended by both teams.

After the 1986 season Foote made it clear that some image cleansing was in order. The Hurricanes were given a 42-page code-of-conduct book telling them they were "expected to conform to all federal, state and city laws." The book contained guidelines on how to handle the media and a dress code instructing players to, among other things, remove their hats upon entering a building.

But while the Miami team has avoided serious disciplinary problems this season, another tempest is brewing in the Hurricane program. It involves the role of big-time athletics at a private institution whose top brass says it is striving to achieve nothing less than the academic excellence of an Ivy League school. Foote and other Miami educators insist that it is not enough that football players stay off the police blotters. Athletes, they say, must be an integral part of the institution.

Miami is hardly alone among Division I-A schools in facing this issue. But Foote has placed his university squarely at the center of the debate: Can a school have both big-time football and stellar academics without compromising either? Foote is convinced that the answer at Miami is yes. Yet, given the attitude of athletic department officials and some university trustees, his resolve is already being tested.

In 1984, with Foote's blessing, the university decided to phase out all of its undergraduate education majors, including physical education and recreation. Those were two favorite "jock majors," and the move could make it harder for some athletes to retain their academic eligiblity. Foote had also considered a fundamental change in Miami's six-week Freshman Institute, a mandatory summer program for marginal students already admitted to the university, including many athletes. Currently those deficient students are merely required to attend classes, but Foote had in mind introducing a pass-fail system. Fail and you don't attend Miami. Athletic director Sam Jankovich and the Hurricane coaches howled. How could they recruit athletes, they asked, and then tell them they might be allowed to matriculate? "If these standards had been in four or five years ago, I doubt seriously whether Miami would have won the [1984] national championship," said Johnson recently.

The pass-fail proposal was tabled, but Foote says that Miami's course toward academic excellence is unalterable. "Our obligation is to fundamental values that are basically academic," he says. "Every decision is measured against that principle." He also says, with reference to football, "I don't think we should be too hung up on being Number 1."

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