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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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Mr. Edward T. (Tad) Foote II
President, University of Miami
Coral Gables, Fla. 33146

Dear President Foote:
In 1939, University of Chicago president Robert Maynard Hutchins, exasperated by the destructive influence of big-time football on his campus, announced that his school, then a member of the Big Ten, would no longer field a team. Hutchins's counterpart at the University of Arkansas, William Fulbright, the future U.S. senator from Arkansas, applauded that decision. Fulbright—the father of the woman who would become your wife—congratulated Hutchins for his "courageous defense of the university and its true function" and for standing up to the "worst excrescences of our educational system" by doing away with a sport that had undermined Chicago's academic reputation and made it hostage to those with no regard for the rules.

It is time to do right by the words of your late father-in-law and heed the example of the man he hailed 56 years ago. The revelations of the past few months make it clear that the Miami football program has become a disease, a cancer that is steadily devouring an institution that you have worked so hard to rid of its image as Suntan U. The Hurricanes have won four national championships during your 14 years as president, but they have done so at incalculable cost to the university's reputation and integrity. You have gone through three athletic directors. You are now on your fourth football coach. But only one president has presided over this hurricane with a black eye.

It is time, President Foote, to fire the program.

For all its victories, Miami football has been worse in more ways over a longer period of time than any other intercollegiate athletic program in memory. Scan the list of abuses that beset college sports, and your football team can claim, going back to 1980, at least one entry in virtually every category: improper benefits; recruiting violations; boosters run amok; academic cheating; use of steroids and recreational drugs; suppressed or ignored positive tests for drugs; player run-ins with other students as well as with campus and off-campus police; the discharge of weapons and the degradation of women in the football dorm; credit-card fraud and telephone credit-card fraud.

During the past decade your school enrolled and suited up at least one player who had scored a 200 on his verbal SAT—the number you get for spelling your name correctly. An on-campus disturbance, involving some 40 members of the football team, required 14 squad cars and a police dog to quell. Fifty-seven players were implicated in a financial-aid scandal that the feds call "perhaps the largest centralized fraud upon the federal Pell Grant program ever committed." And among numerous cases of improper payments to players from agents was one in which the nondelivery of a promised installment led a Hurricane player to barge into an agent's office and put a gun to his head.

The illegal acts with which your Hurricanes have been charged run the gamut from disorderly conduct and shoplifting to drunken driving, burglary, arson, assault and sexual battery. Surely you read the exhaustive and chilling piece about your football program in The Miami Herald of May 18. That paper's reporters did the math: No fewer than one of every seven scholarship players on last season's team has been arrested while enrolled at your university. No wonder running back Melvin Bratton, a Hurricane from 1983 to '87, when asked what students thought of the team's rap sheet, said, "They're too scared to say anything to us." The old jokes—about Miami being the school where they take the team picture from both the front and the side; about the Hurricanes topping every poll from UPI to MCI to FBI—simply aren't funny anymore.

Your school is known nationwide as the place that holds in contempt the most elementary conventions of sportsmanship. Your team's behavior before the Fiesta Bowl in January 1987, when a dozen of your players arrived in Arizona wearing combat fatigues and the entire team walked out of a pregame steak fry with opposing Penn State, might be excused as a lapse in taste. So, too, might the 1986 episode in which your mascot pointed a toy machine gun at a visiting team just before a game. But those occurrences only prefigured the January '91 Cotton Bowl, during which your Hurricanes committed a Cotton Bowl-record 16 penalties, including 10 personal fouls and unsportsmanlike-conduct infractions, during their 46-3 victory over Texas. Surely, as a former Marine, you must have been appalled at an environment in which players could openly defy coach Dennis Erickson's efforts to restrain them during that game and then have one of them say, as center Darren Handy did, that their behavior "might be embarrassing to the university and the coaches, but it's not to the players. We enjoy it."

It would be one thing if your troubles began and ended with your players. But the miscreants have been on your payroll, too. As founding chairman of the Miami Coalition for a Drug-Free Community, you must be horrified that for three years an academic counselor in the athletic department systematically looted the federal Pell Grant program, which provides funds for needy students, in part to support his cocaine habit; that a secretary in your football office admitted to the Herald that she supplied marijuana to, and used it with, players, including on the eve of the 1994 Fiesta Bowl; and that in 1988 one of your strength coaches pleaded guilty to possessing steroids.

Your last coach, Erickson, was notorious for his carousing. His drinking was well-known around town, but it didn't catch up with him until he left last winter for Seattle, where he now coaches the Seahawks. In April he was nailed for drunken driving with a blood-alcohol level that was more than twice the legal limit. But one Erickson assistant, Gregg Smith, pleaded no contest to a charge of reckless driving after initially being charged with driving under the influence, and another, Ed Orgeron, reached a civil settlement after he was arrested in connection with a bar fight.

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