Morris

Morris: Miami should cease all athletics

The (Columbia, S.C.) StateAugust 23, 2011 

You should know that the University of Miami was founded in 1925 and recently was ranked No. 47 by U.S. News & World Report among "America's Best Colleges." For most of its first 50 years, Miami was known for having one of the nation's leading oceanographic and atmospheric research institutions.

For the past three decades, the university mostly has been known for running a renegade athletics program. The latest scandal to cement that image involves a booster who allegedly lavished athletes over a seven-year period with prostitutes, jewelry and wild parties.

So, while Miami officials would like folks to identify their university with high academics, its medical school or its law school, that is a pipe dream. Most people know "The U" -- as fans of the school's athletics programs like to call it -- for boorish behavior by its players, seediness among its boosters and occasional unethical conduct by its coaches.

It is a reputation grown out of thuggish acts when Miami gained national prominence while winning multiple national football championships in the 1980s. For most of the next three decades, the school and its athletics department have attempted to shed that image, albeit with little luck.

The time probably has come to give up the fight. There have to be enough university professors and administrators who recognize that a soiled reputation is not worth it. Abandon athletics.

The University of Miami needs to make a statement. It needs to spread the word that biology labs and English literature are more important than first downs and free throws, that adding more books to the 3.1 million volumes in the library means more than collecting five-star recruits for the football team.

Miami has been here before. Following the 1970-71 season, Miami dropped men's basketball due to what the school's board of trustees called "inadequate facilities, sagging attendance and financial losses." The school did not field a team again until 1985.

This time, the board can cite lack of institutional control over the programs, out-of-control boosters and likely financial losses as reasons to drop all sports.

If you have any doubts about how and when the athletics department lost its way, watch ESPN's "30 for 30" documentary about Miami football, "It's All About The U." The backdrop is Miami's national championship football teams of 1983, '87, '89 and '91.

The show details how Miami developed a "bad boy" image through the taunting of opponents, player arrests and athletes accepting illegal benefits. The worst part is interviews with former players who come across as proud of their actions and the reputation they left at the school.

Now, just when Miami officials believed they had turned the corner, here comes convicted felon Nevin Shapiro, a longtime booster of the athletics program. If what Shapiro claims is true, the Miami athletics department was aware of his many illegal activities involving athletes, many of whom received payments for their services.

There is no doubting that athletics is an important part of the college environment. It creates a sense of pride for the university, helps boost enrollment and offers an entertainment outlet for students.

College administrators often talk about how athletics is the "front porch" for the university, that athletics represent "curb appeal." However sad, often it is true that schools are known more for their football prowess than their Pulitzer Prize winners.

In Miami's case, the front porch does not need to be merely swept. It needs a power washing. Wipe away all of athletics and begin to showcase the house. Tell about how the University of Miami has a $618 million endowment. Tell about how the School of Nursing and Health Studies features the nation's first simulation center designed exclusively for nursing and health science education.

Tell about how the University of Miami is now more interested in producing the leaders of tomorrow in all walks of life. Tell about how the University of Miami no longer believes it is so important that one of its athletic teams wins a conference championship.

Make a statement. Someone needs to lead the way.

Ron Morris can be reached at :rmorris@thestate.com

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