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Upstairs Downstairs
Alexander Wolff
October 14, 1991
Athletic dorms have been legislated out of existence—they must close their doors by 1996—but many coaches, especially in the South, believe that the dorms are the best way to supervise players and produce winning teams.
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October 14, 1991

Upstairs Downstairs

Athletic dorms have been legislated out of existence—they must close their doors by 1996—but many coaches, especially in the South, believe that the dorms are the best way to supervise players and produce winning teams.

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If football dorms really are some perverse combination of Plato's Retreat (see Oklahoma, University of, circa 1989), cocaine den (ibid.) and munitions dump (ibid.), then a well-adjusted, God-fearing, middle-aged couple would be nutso to move into one. Before last season, University of Mississippi coach Billy Brewer and his wife, Kay, did just that. After selling their house in Oxford and not finding another suitable one, the Brewers rounded up their two dogs and took up residence on the first floor of Kinard Hall. "I do know where our players are at night," Brewer said shortly after settling into his new digs. "That's because I'm the guy who has to ask them to turn the music down sometimes."

At least one denizen of the Ole Miss campus has been known not to comply. One evening Brewer began hearing the strains of a mockingbird in a tree outside his window. The serenade persisted through the night until, at about four in the morning, the coach could bear it no longer. There ensued a wee-hours scene Harper Lee could have written: Brewer rolling out of bed, grabbing a broom and lighting out the door to flail away at the offending mockingbird, at which point a car pulled into a nearby parking space. "They were fraternity guys," Brewer recalls, "coming back from doing whatever fraternity guys do when they're out all night. I could hear them after they saw me beating on that tree: 'Hey, that's him! That's that football coach! He's done lost it all!' "

Please indulge the Brewers their opinion, but they believe that the woolly-headed social engineers among the NCAA membership have done lost it all. At last January's NCAA convention, the delegates passed Proposal No. 30 on Athletics Housing, which calls for the phasing out of all athletic dorms by 1996. By that time Alabama's Paul W. Bryant Hall, a.k.a. the Bryant Hilton, will have checked out its final football-playing guest. The evening shade will have crept for the last time over Burt Reynolds Hall at Florida State. And dorks with plastic pocket-liners will have the run of Florida's Yon Hall, the dorm that—oh, sacred space!—is built right into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

To the Brewers, indeed to almost everyone in the Deep South, where football dorms have been a way of life for the better part of four decades, the delegates' vote was kind of like telling a southern hostess that her hospitality hasn't been gracious enough. Yet unless the proposal is amended substantially—and that's not likely in the current climate for reform, not with NCAA executive director Dick Schultz stoutly behind the measure-long-standing same-sex, same-sport structures from Gaines-to Knox-to Stark-to Fayetteville will be left to the paleontologists.

In the meantime, if there's a case to be made for football dorms, Ole Miss is proud to make it. During Brewer's eight years at the school his players have painted Kinard Hall three times. Once a week the rooms are checked for tidiness by Brewer and his assistants. Even Pete, the pet python of former Rebel defensive lineman and current Green Bay Packer linebacker Tony Bennett, observed the Kinard rules, confining himself to a heating pad in the corner of Bennett's room—except on those special occasions when he was allowed to slither around the downstairs pool table to feast on rodents his keeper had bought at the local Wal-Mart.

"It's the only dorm on campus where women aren't allowed," Kay Brewer points out. Present company excepted, of course.

"And we have quiet time, which the regular student dorms don't," her husband adds. "Our kids say, 'Do anything to me. Just don't send me to one of those other dorms, where they're pulling fire alarms at all hours of the night.' "

To those who believe that football dorms are antieducational, Rebel sophomore linebacker Abdul Jackson says, "Our tutors and academic advisers are right in the basement. We don't have to go across campus to the library."

Besides, it is argued, the Rebels have business to tend to—business that is grimly serious in the Southeastern Conference. "If you're living somewhere else," says junior offensive tackle Scott Jerome, "your mind kind of veers from football."

"They like it that someone's there that cares about them and tells them what to do," Brewer says. "Not a day passes that I don't talk to them about going to class or staying off drugs. I'm going to see them at practice and I'm going to see them on film. I'm going to see them walking across campus and I'm going to see them in the dorm. There won't be a day I haven't seen every one of them."

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