Orange Brawl Highlights Why “Payoff” Games Are A Bad Idea In College Sports

By Gregory Moore
Updated: October 16, 2006

SAN ANTONIO — Probably the only good thing that came out of Saturday’s melee between the University of Miami and Florida International University is the fact that the two head coaches shook hands and worked to try and clean up their mess of a two football teams.

That’s the only good thing.

The bad thing about the 35-0 thumping that the Panthers took from the Hurricanes was the fact that this was just another ‘pay off’ game for the Canes. This game was more about greed rather than playing against equal competition in a non-conference game.

This brawl happened because two school administrations thought it would be a good idea to put these two schools together and have a home-home contract agreement for the fans. Normally this is not a bad idea but these two schools aren’t normal.

What we are talking about here is football and in the state of Florida, only three football programs matter: Florida, Florida State and the “U”. Other schools like FIU want to be in those three schools’ league as far as playing and national presence and many players feel resentment that they are not. Thus is the case between the “U” and FIU on Saturday.

So how did this brawl start? It started with an FIU player taunting the Hurricanes during pre-game warm ups and shoving one of the opposing players. It escalated during the game and by the time the fight broke out, the melee was in full bloom.

Put the blame on the players for acting like they are a bunch of thugs or gangstas if you want because it’s appropriate. If you want to say that UM head coach Larry Coker lost control of the situation, it’s accurate because Panthers’ head coach, Don Strock is in the same boat.

But ultimate blame can be put on the two schools themselves; mainly the athletic directors and the presidents of the schools. This game never should have been scheduled at this time during the season and that is the fault of the powers that make those decisions.

Understand where this thought process is coming from. In collegiate sports, big time schools actually pay smaller schools to take the beating in such games. FIU’s talent on that football field is nowhere equal to that of the Hurricanes. That’s the truth and the FIU players should accept it for what it is.

If it were not the truth, then many of them would be playing for Coker, Bobby Bowden or Urban Meyer but they aren’t. Strock and Coker both know that this game should have been scheduled as the Labor Day game because then, nobody would have a chip on their shoulder so late in the season.

Both teams would have been 0-0. The most at stake would have been bragging rights. But Hurricanes’ A.D. Paul Dee decides to schedule this creampuff of a game for his team because he is trying to pad wins and that’s not right. It’s not fair to his football team, his coach and student body and it definitely wasn’t fair to FIU and their team, coaches and fans.

Florida International’s higher ups are partially the blame too. What were Pete Garcia and Rick Mello thinking in scheduling this game so late? Was a generous six-figure payout that important? Even if the Hurricanes paid them a measly $100,000, that money doesn’t do anything to squelch the embarrassment of a butt kicking that the Panthers took on Saturday.

And that is the very reason why this payoff games are so much trouble these days. FIU was nothing more than a punching back (pun intended) for the Hurricanes. Coker’s squad needed an easy win before they start playing conference games.

Well, that’s not right for either school.

FIU deserves to be played honestly at the beginning of the season and the Hurricanes need to face a tougher opponent this time of the year. Maybe if that were taken into consideration, along with good sportsmanship, this game would have been just a good rivalry for the weekend.

STOPPING FUTURE BRAWLS THROUGH EDUCATION For the moment let’s forget about FIU and Miami for the moment. This fight never should have happened because if the participants really paid attention to the student handbooks that they are given as student athletes, the embarrassment that these institutions would not be at the forefront right now.

I did a little googling on the net and I found an old copy of a Notre Dame student-athlete handbook. Now I don’t know the date of the book but Rev. Edward Malloy and Dr. Kevin White were contributors to the book so I’m going to assume at least in 2000 or so before Dr. Malloy left the school.

For argument’s sake, let us assume that the following is something very similar to every NCAA member school in regards to student-athlete conduct. UND’s policy was the following when this particular book was printed:

– Student-athletes, coaches, and all others associated with the Notre Dame Athletic Department must adhere to such fundamental values as respect, fairness, honesty, and responsibility. Sportlike and ethical conduct means more than the absence of negative actions in public.

– Each individual coach is responsible for providing conduct instruction to student-athletes by disseminating information on the following positive approaches when on the playing field:

• Techniques for communicating with officials and opponents on routine matters during athletic events; • Techniques for maintaining control during emotionally charged situations, including assisting a teammate or colleague who appears to be losing control; and • Techniques for reacting in a positive manner to an aggressive action by an individual or a group.

– Instruction also should define actions that constitute inappropriate conduct and include techniques for avoiding such behavior. Actions viewed as inappropriate include:

• Physical abuse of officials, coaches, opponents, or spectators; • Throwing of objects; • Unauthorized seizure of equipment from officials or the news media; • Inciting players or spectators to negative actions or to any behavior that insults or defiles an opponent’s traditions; • Use of obscene or otherwise inappropriate language or gestures; • Making public statements that are negative, controversial, or outside the Athletic Department’s media policy; and • Participating in any action that violates the generally recognized ethical standards of intercollegiate athletics or of the University.

Let us assume that every school that is a member of the NCAA has something very similar to what you just read above. So how is it that a fight like the one that took place on Saturday could even come to such a boiling point to where many alumni members of Miami and FIU want to have these athletes punished to the fullest extent of whatever governing body there is?

Because many of today’s student-athletes simply do know what good sportsmanship is and they do not care about being a good representative of the school for which the play for.

Bringing FIU and Miami back into this debate, the actions of those players was simply disgusting both from a competitive sports standpoint and from a ‘good citizen’ standpoint. Several players, including FIU’s Chandler Williams, need to be shown that such boorish behavior isn’t tolerated and they need to be removed from having the privilege of being a student-athlete.

The very problem that we face today with such mayhem is the fact that there is a serious disregard to what is a privilege at any university or college that has athletics. Many of today’s youth simply are not thinking that they are fortunate to even be playing at a venue like the Orange Bowl.

And so that’s where a crash course in education on what a privilege it is to be a student athlete needs to come in. The ramifications from when Clemson and South Carolina had their melee and now this one should be winter meeting summits by every NCAA member school. Accountability by everyone in the athletic department, from the water boy and administrative assistant to every student athlete and coach needs to be enforced.

A zero-tolerance policy needs to be in place at every school so that such actions will never happen again. More importantly, the current group of players suspended need to feel the wrath of being stupid and reckless on national television by having either the scholarships revoked or some sort of severe punishment that has them double thinking their actions.

This is not the time to be shying away from harsh judgment on these players by any means. A slap on the wrist of one game is laughable and totally demeaning to the hundreds of other student-athletes who are doing it right. The NCAA needs to come down swift on these players and make sure that those who have any eligibility left are left out in the cold for their transgressions.

Even if FIU or Miami doesn’t have the exact wording of the proper conduct as I presented here, they have something similar and I know that stuident athletes have a copy of a similar book. It’s time for the “U” to step up and cut the thuggery out of its reputation.

That starts this week with Dr. Dona Shalayla sending a strong message that lack of ‘home training’ is no place in Coral Gables.

COMMENTATOR NEEDS TO BE FIRED…NOW Comcast Sports Southeast needs to fire former U of M player Lamar Thomas immediately for his insensitive comments. The comments that Thomas made are as unprofessional as they come from a former player and the fact that he is not capable of realizing the seriousness of his words on a national level is just dumbfounding.

“We will take appropriate disciplinary action,” CSS general manager Mark Fuhrman said Monday. “We do not support or condone any of the comments that were made by Lamar.” This is what is troubling from a professional standpoint and is pretty much lost by fans: broadcasters cannot be so bias as to overlook wrongdoing by the teams involved.

What Thomas said was uncalled for, unprofessional and in not good broadcasting form. He could have easily tapered his statements but he decided to act as if he were still part of the team. Fuhrman and Comcast need to simply cut this loose cannon loose and find someone who has a much more polished approach at color commentating.

Maybe what would be good is to not have a former U of M football player doing the color analysis because evidently being objective in some instances simply is not a possibility.

Whatever Comcast does, Thomas needs to be shown the door on being a broadcaster. There is simply no defense for his remarks. Being professional also means being savvy in all situations.

What Thomas said was what some people would categorize as typical ‘Canespeak’ from a member of a football program that doesn’t care about sportsmanship; only in intimidation.

In a career where 5.5 million people could be watching at any given time, you cannot make that type of mistake and that is the very reason why he needs to be relieved of his duties.

EDITORS’ NOTE: Comcast Sports Southeast fired Lamar Thomas from his job doing color commentary on Hurricanes games on Tuesday and will edit his fiery remarks during the brawl from a replay of the telecast Wednesday.