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Wednesday, July 28, 2004

The Interesting Tale of Willie Williams and

the Miami Hurricanes.

Okay, suppose you're a college admissions officer at a school that is private and wants to be considered more among the elite than it is.  You get lots of applications, and, like most schools, your scholarship money -- for athletics and academics, is rather limited.  You're looking for outstanding kids, whether they're well-rounded (a standard which use to prevail) or outstanding (i.e., among the very best) at just one thing (the standard that currently is in vogue because the elite schools now favor the well-rounded class over a class full of well-rounded people).   You're looking for leaders; you're looking for people of character.  Kids who will add to your community, and kids who have the maturity to live with others and get along with them in a relatively unsupervised environment. 

Suppose you have a kid who will be the best drum major that ever walked into the school, or an outstanding composer, or a kid who already has started his own internet business that grosses $100,000 a year, or a kid who scored 1500 on his SAT's, or a kid who was president of Boys' State (which is in stark contrast to Boys' Town), or a kid who has published a volume of haiku.  You might want that kid in your freshman class.  And, if those kids are from Nebraska, Namibia, a family of 16, an underprivileged background, all the better.  All the better because it's great to have kids from all walks of life.  Colleges know that kids learn from each other as well if not better than from their professors, so it's great to have your students share diverse life experiences.

But suppose one of those kids with an outstanding talent has an arrest record.  Not just one arrest.  And not just one arrest for a juvenile prank of firing a fire extinguisher or stealing the rival high school's mascot.  But a series of arrests for burglary.   What do you do then? 

Do you want that kid living among your student population right out of high school?  Do you think that kid is ready to respect the lives of others?  Will you let that kid into your freshman class?

The answer, in all likelihood, would not take your dean of admissions that long to formulate.  You'd probably send a rejection letter and be done with it.  You might even think, "what nerve, is this guy kidding?"  Perhaps, if, say, through connections, you heard more about the kid, you might say "go to junior college, stay clean and do well, and we'll see what we can do or take a post-graduate year at a prep school, do well and stay clean, and then reapply," but that's probably about it.  End of story. 

There are plenty of kids with unique talents, and there are many without the baggage of a disciplinary record.   The competition for spots and financial aid is fierce; the Darwinism is absolute.

But suppose that kid with 11 arrests on his record plays football.  And suppose he led his HS to the big-school championship in your football-crazed state.   Then what?  Do you a) admit him, b) admit him with stipulations as to behavior, c) require him to go somewhere like a military academy for a post-graduate year to get his act together and get some discipline, d) require him to go to a JUCO and then come back with a clean record in two years or e) reject him outright?

Hard choice?  Do you agonize over it?  Do you even think about how the kid will fit in on the campus?  Or do you say, "11 arrests by the age of 19 is 11 arrests" and can't they find someone who can hit like a sledgehammer but spends his spare time bugling instead of burgling? 

Apparently it wasn't that hard a choice for the Miami Hurricanes.  The University of Miami clearly chose football over its quest to come closer to the academic elite.  They opted for option b), and President Donna Shalala indicated that there are behavior stipulations but didn't go into what they are (in fairness, the Buckley Amendment prohibits colleges from revealing private information about their students).  So, despite the fact that Miami had 6 players drafted in the first round of this past April's NFL draft, they were feeling insecure on defense.  And, as you know, while offense sells tickets, defense wins championships.

Former Kentucky coach, Baltimore Colt and Green Bay Packer Bill Curry, a regular on Mike & Mike in the Morning on ESPN radio (a favorite of SportsProf), didn't exactly defend the decision, but he did stick up for his friend Larry Coker, the Miami head coach, by saying that Coker is a straight arrow, an honest guy, and if he sees something in Williams he should be given the benefit of the doubt.  Curry is not a hard-case former football coach but a thoughtful guy, and he indicated that there were times when he was a head coach where they took chances on a kid.  Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn't.  Curry thinks that Coker should be given the benefit of the doubt here.

SportsProf respects Bill Curry and his opinion, but wonders where all of Miami's priorities are.  Clearly, Curry's opinion is valid if you accept the great premium that universities place on the success of their athletic programs.  Because Miami fights for championships in the BCS and makes that goal a priority, Williams is an acceptable risk.  My guess is that at a marginal program, Williams' admission would be more than an acceptable risk, it would be a necessity.  After all, how could a gate-starved Division I-A program turn down the next Ray Lewis, especially if he could help fill the seats?

But SportsProf, while he likes sports, doesn't like them at the expense of common sense or where colleges lose sight of their priorities (and he'll debate whether "saving" Willie Williams should be a priority for Miami, especially right out of HS).  SportsProf for one does not think that players like Willie Williams belong on a college campus, not at least until they do their penance in a post-graduate year and really get ready for college.  His admission sends the wrong message on many levels -- to HS football stars (that they'll continuously get second, third, fourth and twenty-second chances), to professors (that learning may not be paramount), to past, current and future students (that academics aren't necessarily the priority).   But the 'Canes probably couldn't risk the chance that Williams might go to Florida or Florida State.  That's just the way college football is down there.

Unfortunately, there is no minor league for HS football players who probably should not go to college.  Wags can joke that the SEC may just fit this bill, but that wouldn't be fair to the large majority of the football players in that conference who want their degrees and want to leverage their scholarships into good careers.  But until there is a meaningful minor league, and because of the pressure to win, football schools will be admitting players with issues like Willie Williams' for years to come.  Hopefully there aren't that many with 11 arrests before matriculation. 

SportsProf only hopes that Williams' admission is good for Williams, who hopefully views it as his last chance to do things the right way, and good for college football as a whole.  Miami has worked hard to undo the image of an outlaw football school, the UNLV of the gridiron.  The admission of Williams has those who watch football closely wondering what Miami is up to this time.  Maybe they are doing a good deed here.  But remember this, they want that national title.  Badly.

And, as we know in the world of sports, it only takes one incident to undo two decades' worth of solid work. 

Good luck to Donna Shalala, Larry Coker and Willie Williams. 

And to college athletics and universities struggling with their priorities.

You need every bit of it.

Because everyone will be watching you.


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2:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Take all was said on this blog, and now add to that Miami let him go, and consider what a catastrophically poor decision University of Louisville made when they accepted him on their football team.

1:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look in the DII area - to a college in West Virginia - Glenville State - you'll find the new Willie Williams.

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