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Broken Beyond Repair
June 12, 1995
An open letter to the president of Miami urges him to dismantle his vaunted football program to salvage his school's reputation
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June 12, 1995

Broken Beyond Repair

An open letter to the president of Miami urges him to dismantle his vaunted football program to salvage his school's reputation

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It turns out, says the Herald, that members of your coaching staff even invited a player to drink with them. But then, Hurricane players have had little reason to respect their coaches; during your tenure on campus the team has been in the charge of three different men—Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson and Erickson—each of whom, within two weeks of insisting that he wasn't leaving for another job, left anyway. The man you hired to replace Erickson, Butch Davis, has a reputation as a straight arrow. But in light of his having been a key member of Johnson's staff at Miami, the choice of Davis hardly signals the departure you so desperately need.

The Herald's recitation of damning details goes on: It tells of players' visiting a downtown strip club so often—at times escorting high school recruits—that the place came to be known as "the office." It describes how in 1992 authorities shut down a Hurricane hangout, Luke's, the club owned by 2 Live Crew rapper and Miami supporter Luther Campbell, for serving alcohol to minors and permitting nude dancing and the open smoking of marijuana. But the Herald's portrait of your football dorm, Foster Hall, as a place where serial intercourse with drunk or passed-out women was commonplace, and where players peeped at one another as they had sex, makes Luke's look like a day-care center.

The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel has weighed in too, reporting that over the past two years, your athletic director, Paul Dee, suspended critical parts of what had been a rigorous drug-testing policy, and that Erickson failed to report numerous positive tests of several players, including at least one of All-America defensive tackle Warren Sapp's. Had Sapp's test results been revealed, he might have faced a suspension that would have affected not only his career but also your football team's fortunes.

The Claude-Rains-in-Casablanca observation—"I am shocked...shocked!"—won't do anymore. This is where your football program stands midway through the 1990s: Campbell, your most notorious booster, has threatened to bring down the program by telling the NCAA all he knows if his main man, Ryan Collins, is not named to start at quarterback for Miami this fall. One former rival, South Carolina, which has had its own share of run-ins with the NCAA, considers your team such a pariah that it refuses to play you anymore. Now even longtime Herald sports editor and columnist Edwin Pope, an ally of yours and your athletic department's through virtually every scandal, has broken ranks. The final straw for Pope was Dee's lawyerly doublespeak in the wake of the Sapp saga. Surely you know: For you to lose the pontiff on Hurricane football is like LBJ losing Cronkite on Vietnam.

Pope can't understand why you assigned Dee, your general counsel during the Pell Grant scandal, to investigate why the athletic department ignored its own drug-testing policy, a mess to which he was a central party. Of course, you also had appointed Dee to a committee that spent two months reviewing the Hurricanes' conduct during the Johnson era, back in the mid-1980s. The committee recommended the hiring of a former NCAA investigator to help monitor compliance, but otherwise it concluded that there was nothing amiss that a 46-page student-athlete handbook and code of conduct couldn't cure, and it pronounced your football program one of integrity "on and off the field."

That committee's verdict sounded like many of your own utterances over the years. In 1983 you praised Schnellenberger, during whose tenure Miami's pattern of taunting began and its graduation rate dipped into single digits, for presiding over a "showcase" in which "athletes are students" and men of "honor and integrity." In '86 you said, in response to the committee's report, "We have made great progress in recent years, and we will make more." You said this in '87: "I'm an old-fashioned guy, and for me the answer is to go back and insist that they be students first and athletes second." And in '91: "Watch us."

We've watched. So presumably has the NCAA, which has punished your school only once during the last 15 years—in 1981, for major recruiting violations. But the gumshoes from Overland Park, Kans., are now upon you, following up on players' claims in the spring of '94 that Campbell and former Hurricanes gave them incentive payments for everything from vicious hits to touchdowns. Campbell denies the accusation, but the NCAA will also be investigating the institutional implications of the Pell Grant and drug-testing fiascoes. If the NCAA had a RICO statute, the tool the feds employ to prosecute an ongoing criminal enterprise, your practice field would already be a palm grove.

Certainly the university's efforts to turn Erickson into a scapegoat for the failure of your drug-testing policy is itself a plea of guilty to the most-dreaded charge a university administrator can face from the NCAA: "lack of institutional control." So, too, is the contention that no senior university employees had a clue that assistant academic coordinator Tony Russell parceled out more than $128,000 in fraudulent Pell Grants to 57 players from his athletic department office. Russell, who was sentenced to three years in prison, has consistently denied that anyone else knew what he was up to during the three years he ran his scam.

Once the NCAA gets through with a school, "lack of institutional control" often translates into "lack of much of a football team for the next few seasons." That possibility argues even more persuasively for taking drastic, preemptive action yourself. Yet in the wake of the collapse of your drug-testing policy, you appointed still another committee, only this time—you must be getting really serious now—the committee was supplemented by a "special task force" charged with reviewing the activities of the entire athletic department. And you're still saying essentially the same things you have said for a dozen years. "If something is broken, we will fix it," you told The Dallas Morning News last month. "We remain committed to offering competitive intercollegiate athletics with integrity, on and off the field," you said in a press release last week. And: "I believe and predict the difficulties that have plagued the team in the past are history," you said to the Herald on May 18.

We might believe and predict the same thing, if you weren't sounding less and less like the leader of a university that you once proclaimed would become "this generation's Stanford" and more and more like one of those flight attendants who says, "We'd like to be the first to welcome you to Cleveland," but never actually welcomes you to Cleveland.

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