BY REBECCA AGULE
So karma has finally gone and bitten Coral Gables on the ass. On Saturday, the now unranked University of Miami Hurricanes couldn’t turn a solid defensive effort into a homecoming victory against the barely ranked Virginia Tech Hokies. As a UVA fan, I felt dirty rooting for the Hokies. But after their recent escapades, I could not even fathom cheering for the ‘Canes.
Usually when these two teams meet, visions of ACC titles and national championships swirl around the field. This most recent version carried no such implications, as each team tries simply to make a run at a respectable bowl game.
But ever increasingly, I would call very little about the University of Miami football program “respectable.”
Three weeks ago, the Orange Bowl morphed into the Ultimate Fighting Championship, when Miami and Florida International University players cleared benches for a full-on rumble. Miami’s Brandon Meriweather, appearing to channel Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, attempted to stomp on opposing players, as teammate and safety Anthony Reddick did his own William Wallace imitation, charging the field and using his helmet as a weapon. All of which seemed that much more pathetic as a gimp FIU Golden Panther limped around, trying to swing his crutch at whoever happened close enough.
With many players from both schools having grown up together, that game could have been its own sort of homecoming, a bit of a family-fest, and maybe even the beginning of a healthy rivalry. Instead, it was nothing short of pure ugliness.
Now I hardly absolve the FIU players of any blame. But lets be honest – it was a bit like watching an NFL team take on a Peewee squad. And with the drama surrounding Snoop’s new league and his latest arrest, no one was around to stick up for the kids.
And at least FIU set an example, even if it was one that the big boys declined to follow, booting two from the team, and suspending the remaining 16 brawl participants indefinitely.
What was the oh so stringent punishment handed down by the ACC? Suspending Miami players for the following game, which just happened to be against conference nemesis and long-standing powerhouse, the Duke Blue Devils. How frightening that must have been.
Announcing the penalty, ACC Commissioner John Swofford said, “These suspensions send a clear and definitive message that this type of behavior will not be tolerated.”
At least he got the “clear and definitive message” part right. But let’s replace “will not be tolerated” with “is totally condoned.” I could take on the Blue Devils, and everyone knows I throw like a girl.
Miami upped the ante by tacking on a community service initiative, part of which included the development of a sportsmanship program. Have I mentioned irony yet? This whole incident smacks of it. Add to that “meaningful, ongoing work” with a charity of each player’s choosing. Yes, now that will scare them straight.
To be fair, the ACC did revise its initial decision, extending Reddick’s suspension indefinitely, and Reddick did “humbly apologize.” But that’s hardly the “U” stepping in and sending a message.
Miami head coach Larry Coker and a fist-shaking Miami president Donna Shalala further underscored the school’s position on fighting, both calling the punishment “fair, justified and strong enough to satisfy the university,” according to ESPN. President Shalala laid down the law, however, when she announced the institution of a zero-tolerance policy. Just in case anyone was not clear that on-field fighting is a no-no. She claimed to want to avoid “throwing any student under the bus”; instead she decided that young men should be treated as small children, totally unable to distinguish for themselves right from wrong.
Wielding such strict discipline, one hardly wonders why Coker cannot exercise any real control over his players. He has managed to maintain the team’s arrogance and swagger, but not its traditional spot in the national rankings.
Suspending the players for a game that should have been a walk turned out to be a bit more complicated than expected, and Miami scarcely squeezed past the winless Blue Devils, 20-15, on a last-second goal line interception. Short on starters, Miami received a small preview of the decline that would begin to define the rest of their season.
Karma’s chuckle continued the following week, when Miami fell 30-23 to Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets have 13 players in the NFL; Miami has almost that many whose last names begin with “M.”
School administrators refused to be educators, so the Fates took it upon themselves to call class into session. Maybe now other schools will sit up and pay attention, and learn to properly discipline their players, before Fate steps in and takes a hand.
And now, with the loss to Virginia Tech, there goes the Hurricanes’ lock on the Coastal Region of the ACC. At this point, they still need another win to even qualify for a bowl.
Miami’s backup quarterback, Kirby Freeman recently said, “When you lose games, it magnifies everything. Especially when you have the ‘U’ on the side of your helmet.”
Perhaps the ‘Canes need to be a bit more concerned about what happens when you lose decency and sportsmanship, and what that says about the “U” on the side of the helmet.
Rebecca Agule is a 1L who longs for the time when sports showcased the best that humanity has to offer.
[This piece went to press before the death of University of Miami defensive lineman Bryan Pata, and Ms. Agule would like to express her condolences to all of Mr. Pata’s friends, family and teammates.]