This past weekend there was some naughty behavior on a football field down in Florida. No, not the usual bad behavior and unsportsmanlike conduct that is ubiquitous on football fields. In the game between University of Miami and Florida International a bench-clearing brawl--ok not everyone was involved in it-- more typical of baseball or hockey, broke out when UM took a 14-0 lead in the game.
Surprisingly (well I was surprised anyway) the game was only interrupted briefly while "order" was restored. But the severity of the actions of the players involved drew one-game suspensions from the ACC commissioner. Later the punishments got a bit more severe with some players being suspended indefinitely.
I don't know the timeline of the events but I suspect that the reasoning by the powers-that-be went something like this: bad behavior by football players in a public setting demands action but not too much action because this is a Div. I football program after all so one-game suspension seems suitable; oh wait--the media is calling this "one of the most disgusting displays on a college football field ever"--yikes! well we better do something a little harsher.
But it's still not enough for some people, like ESPN.com columnist Gene Wojciechowski who thinks more heads--like coach heads--should be rolling their way out of Coral Gables. And he blames UM President Donna Shalala (I did not know that Shalala had gone to UM after her long stint in the Clinton administration) for not doing enough.
You can read the column for yourself but this is my summary of what Wojciechowski is saying: UM football is out of control and Shalala needs to grow a pair of balls and fire the coach.
He points out some of head coach Larry Coker's errors in judgment--to put it mildly. Still I don't think Shalala should bear all the blame here.
First of all high-profile athletic departments are, to borrow a favorite phrase from a university administrator friend of mine, "tubs on their own bottoms." In other words, despite the myriad of regulations that surround, theoretically, intercollegiate athletics, athletic departments are frequently left to themselves, especially where football is concerned. Right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing until left hand gets in a fight and right hand has to--reluctantly--enter the fight too.
I can understand why Dr. Shalala does not want to enter this fight. Football is the sacred cow and my guess is that she does plenty of political tightrope walking just being a woman in charge of a major educational institution. Entering a debate about football is enough to throw off anyone's balance and Shalala is not the first university president to want to avoid becoming embroiled in the controversy.
Despite the apparent consensus over the egregious behavior of the football players, I still believe Shalala would encounter sizeable resistance to firing the head coach or taking any kind of retaliatory action that appeared to come directly from her rather than in concert with the conference.
It is very difficult for a woman to undertake any action that appears to weaken or demean football--even Donna Shalala. Wojciechowski fails to understand this. He expects Shalala to clean up a mess that was started and has been perpetuated by men--at UM and beyond. She may be a woman, but that doesn't mean she is a housekeeper.