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FAMU Could Be The SMU of 1-AA HBCU Schools
SAN ANTONIO — In July of 2003 this writer was ecstatic that Florida A&M University was going to try and make the jump to Division 1-A in its entire sports program. Now two years later, the school is submerged in a NCAA rules investigation where there have been 196 violations found, MEAC titles stripped and a student body that is refusing to pay for the mistakes of an athletic department that became to zealous in trying to make the jump.
Joe’s firing came during a time when the school began facing some serious financial hardships and after his own coaching staff bolted. In February five assistants that included Joe’s brother, left the football program. Joe and two remaining assistants were fired in June. Now amidst the institution trying to get financially responsible after a series of payroll irregularities, budget cuts and enrollment issues, Joe says he wants his buyout from his contract.
They kept him there, had him fire his friends, re-hire a staff, retrain the staff, recruit juniors, and they wait until it’s impossible for the man to take another job before they fire him”, said Mark Walker, Joe’s attorney. “It was not only wrong legally, morally it was reprehensible”.
“We didn’t time this in any malicious way, that’s for sure”, said Alvin Hollins, an assistant athletic director at FAMU who is the athletic department representative on the search committee. “In essence, he was held responsible for what went on in the program. It’s just a matter of his interpretation versus ours. As the head coach, anything that goes on in the program, he’s held responsible for it”.
To some Joe may be a scapegoat in this process but for others, including this writer, Joe is as much at fault for the athletic department’s mess as the other coaches are for their part. Your assistant coaches are your responsibility. Culpability, whether knowing or unknowing, is still the same in the sports world. What is going to hurt this institution is that if the NCAA decides to give FAMU the death penalty, it will essentially be the end of Rattler sports, as we know it. This isn’t a school with big time resources and there would be a long process for this school to recover from this precarious situation.
Now many may say, How come a coach like Roy Williams can get away with doing something such as approving gifts but yet Joe and other coaches who coach HBCUs get the death penalty and be fired for something just as erroneous? In all fairness giving a kid money is a minor infraction to what Joe and other head coaches are being accused of at FAMU. At that school, they are saying academic, recruiting and player ineligibility. Now there are other coaches who commit these same violations and from that standpoint I don’t think Joe or anyone else who is a HBCU coach in the NCAA affiliation should get a free pass but by the same token Joe did this school wrong with trying to back them into making the jump to Division 1-A. Joe should have known that this school could not compete at that level and he should have told them that two years ago before the press release went out.
Billy Joe was at FAMU for 11 years and for that I am holding him responsible for whatever role the football program had in those violations. Even though his assistants may have done the dirty work, the excuse of “I didn’t know” doesn’t fly in this day and age because we are dealing with a rulebook that everyone should know. Is FAMU at fault as well for their part in the violations scandal? They most definitely are. They have a compliance officer and that person should have made sure that the department and school were in compliance with what the NCAA mandates. Now if the school doesn’t have the funds to staff this important office, then this school is in no position to say that they didn’t know what their athletic department was doing. They knew (meaning the administrators). They just didn’t want the world to know at the time of their malfeasance and incompetent state of the situation.
In 2003 the school was ready to go Division 1-A and now two years later they could be hit with one of the toughest punishments in HBCU history. It is a distinct possibility that FAMU will become the “SMU” of black colleges and if that happens, this school will never be the same. Joe and the school can bicker about a payout and Joe’s lawyer can say that he was a scapegoat in the press. But what of the kids that are currently enrolled in class and of the athletes who are still there? Who is going to look after their well being?
All of this posturing doesn’t mean a thing if this school loses it’s athletic programs because of greed and zealousness. I’ve seen the numbers for the proposed jump to the next level and they simply didn’t add up. The enrollment didn’t justify the choice. Going independent wasn’t a good idea either last season. Now one of the country’s most well known Black schools is looking at athletic extinction. FAMU and its supporters need to ask themselves was all of this worth it because I simply don’t see it at that time or even now.
NOTE: Ruben Carter, a former collegiate All-American and star NFL defensive tackle, was officially presented as Florida A&M’s new head football coach at an afternoon press conference on Wednesday.