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TIME TO PLAY FOOTE BALL?

Dec. 21, 1987
Dec. 21, 1987

Table of Contents
Dec. 21, 1987

Lakers-Celtics
Dallas Cowboys
Lady Longhorns
Team USA
University Of Miami
Bill Johnson
Morten Andersen
Television
Wrestling Padre
Focus
Point After

TIME TO PLAY FOOTE BALL?

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

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."

This is an article from the Dec. 21, 1987 issue Original Layout

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."

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.

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.

Vice-provost James L. Ash Jr. sits on a committee that is investigating the team's living arrangements and will make recommendations to Foote in February. "I expect changes in the direction of mainstreaming," he says. "Whatever we do will be phased in. We don't have reason to act precipitously."

In other words, maybe someday the football team will be part of the university. For now, although they wear Miami uniforms, it can be argued that the players who will meet Oklahoma on New Year's Day really don't represent the University of Miami at all. Foote, to his credit, would like to change that. If he's ever allowed to, Miami would really have something to be proud of.

PHOTOHEINZ KLUETMEIERWhile Foote (far left) and Johnson (above) were squaring off, Miami stars like Irvin (shown scoring against Florida State) were excelling on the field—if not on the SATs.PHOTODOUG HOKE[See caption above.]PHOTOJOHN BIEVER[See caption above.]PHOTOBILL FRAKESAs Fitzgerald sees it, the Hurricanes' isolation is harmful to them and the university.PHOTOHEINZ KLUETMEIERJankovich hopes that Miami will continue to have teams that its fans can cheer about.