By: [no author name found]
Despite what a small minority of students think, the Oct. 14 fight at the Orange Bowl between FIU and the University of Miami football players is nothing to be proud of.
FIU and UM players punching, kicking, stomping and body slamming each other isn’t the type of publicity the University was seeking from a potential inner city rivalry.
FIU has invested a significant amount of money into establishing a football program. Now, its hopes for a successful future have been compromised by a few players’ momentary lapse of reason.
Before the melee began, everything seemed to have been heading in the right direction for FIU’s growing football program: new athletic director Pete Garcia was on the way from UM and the Board of Trustees just approved $34 million to renovate the FIU Stadium.
All that came crashing down during the nine-minute mark of the third quarter when players from both sidelines stormed the field.
“Football is an emotional game, but there’s a line you can’t cross,” FIU head coach Don Strock said. “There is no place in the great game of college football for anything like this, and I apologize.”
An apology won’t help anything now; FIU’s image has already been blackened by the scuffle.
Since Saturday night, ESPN and every other media outlet have been airing clips of the fight over and over. Hardly anybody in the country knew that FIU even existed or had a football team, for that matter.
Now, the first thing that will come to peoples’ mind when they think of FIU will be something similar to the thug image that the UM football team earned for itself back when Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson coached the program.
As a relatively young football program, what FIU needed most was to make a name for itself. Unfortunately for FIU athletics, the saying that any publicity is good publicity does not apply in this case. The image from that night’s Orange Bowl catastrophe will follow FIU’s athletic program for years to come.
Given all this, the University made the right move by administering stricter punishments for the players involved than the one-game suspension mandated by the Sun Belt Conference. The indefinite suspension of 16 players and the removal of senior defensive back Chris Smith and junior Marshall McDuffie will send the message that FIU is serious about making sure this a one-time incident and not a matter of course.
At the same time, FIU acted fairly by allowing the Athletic Department to honor Smith and McDuffie’s scholarships until they graduate.
Booting them from the team was punishment enough; any other course of action would have been excessive. They made a mistake as athletes, and it was right to punish them as athletes. However, their mistake on the playing field should not carry into their academic lives.
“We’re going to be committed to them. They came here to get an education. It’s our obligation to them and their family that we do everything now more than ever to make sure they leave with a degree,” Garcia said.
What’s done is done. An unseemly mistake was made that night, and now both teams and universities have no other choice but to move on.
More importantly, if this newborn rivalry continues on to other years, it must be played in a competitive but sportsmanlike manner.