Archive for Saturday, October 21, 2006

Miami missed a chance to step up

October 21, 2006


Even by Miami's lofty standards, that was quite a brawl.

Still, it might have been easier to write off the episode as another example of the tail wagging the dog. Except in this case, it happened to be swinging a helmet, too - not to mention stomping, punching, gouging and whatever else angry young men do when they mean to inflict serious harm.

So much so that neither the Hurricanes nor Florida International's Golden Panthers felt the least bit inhibited by the presence of police officers, security guards and at least a half-dozen TV cameras.

And talk about uninhibited: Former Miami standout Lamar Thomas got so geeked up looking on from the broadcast booth that at one point he boasted to viewers, "I was about to go down the elevator to get in that thing."

Special, huh? But enough about the crime. The punishment is every bit as embarrassing.

Miami president Donna Shalala had three days to deliberate. She also had the benefit of a tough precedent already established by her counterpart at Florida International, who swiftly threw two kids off the team and suspended 16 others indefinitely. Given Miami's high profile in the college football world, Shalala had the chance to amplify that statement.

Instead, she did what most of her predecessors did when confronted with proof that one of the school's sports programs was out of control: She shook her fist at the people running it, then crossed her fingers and told everybody to continue doing exactly what they were doing before.

"This university will be firm and punish people who do bad things," Shalala said Tuesday. "But we will not throw any student under the bus for instant restoration of our image or our reputation."

Please. Brawls are as much a part of Miami's mystique as national championships. Maybe because she took the job only five years ago, Shalala hasn't had the time to read up on that part of "The U" tradition.

And maybe she's already forgotten that they brawled with LSU last December at the Peach Bowl and stomped on the Louisville logo last month, a let's-get-ready-to-rumble invitation if there ever was one.

Contrast the justice meted out by FIU president Mitch Maidique, whose program just became a full-fledged member of Division I-A, with that from Shalala. Helmet-swinging Miami sophomore Anthony Reddick was suspended indefinitely, but continues to practice with the team. Senior Brandon Meriweather, seen stomping on FIU players in the video, was one of a dozen players suspended for next week's game against Duke, which would have a hard time beating Miami's intramural flag-football champions.

Oh, and all of them have to perform community service and promise never to brawl again, or face dismissal. Some punishment.

"We'll put that behind us," said coach Larry Coker, for whom that can't happen fast enough. "It's all Duke from here on out. ... Let's move forward."

The real shame is that those feeble decisions got the full backing of Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford.

In truth, the only person being punished in all this is Thomas, the Comcast Sports SouthEast analyst who lost his job for on-air comments that sounded like a recruiting pitch for UM wannabes.

"Now, that's what I'm talking about," Thomas began. "You come into our house, you should get your behind kicked. ... You can't come over to our place talking noise like that."

Spoken like a true alum.


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