Colleges fighting to keep peace Weekend four-rounder reopens debate

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Gene Corrigan and Mike Tranghese will be among several conference commissioners convening in Chicago today and tomorrow for their annual meeting on the state of intercollegiate athletics.

Along with issues such as cost con- tainment and gender equity, another topic likely will be added to the agenda, or at least to the dinner-table conversation: what happened Saturday at four stadiums, where footbrawl replaced football.

"It was a tough weekend," said Corrigan, whose Atlantic Coast Conference had five teams involved in some type of fight, including one that led to a post-game altercation between an assistant coach from North Carolina and one from North Carolina State.

Tranghese, the Big East commissioner whose conference had two teams involved in separate incidents, said: "What happened last weekend is not healthy for the sport."

The most publicized incident took place in Boulder, Colo., shortly before halftime of Miami's 35-29 win over the Buffaloes. After the Hurricanes scored with 20 seconds left in the first half, a fight on the ensuing kickoff escalated into a wild, bench-clearing brawl.

A dozen players were thrown out -- seven for Miami, five for Colorado -- and security was beefed up behind the visitors' bench for the second half and for the Hurricanes' bus ride to the airport.

The brawl did not come as a surprise to at least one Colorado player, who pointed to Miami's trash-talking reputation, written about all week in the local newspapers and talked about on all the radio call-in shows.

"I figured we're playing Miami, they're in the Rocky Mountains, they figured they could make it their home," said Colorado safety Dwayne Davis. "I thought all along a brawl would occur. I didn't know it would be a team brawl."

Colorado athletic director Bill Marolt went ballistic afterward, blaming the fight on the all-Big East officiating crew. Marolt called their performance "an embarrassment to college football and to the integrity of the games."

The brawl was the first involving the Hurricanes this year, but evoked memories of seasons past. Of the mini-brawl at San Diego State last season. Of the trash-talking against Texas A&M; in the 1991 Cotton Bowl that resulted in the stiffening of a taunting rule that was already on the books. Of the rumble in the tunnel at Notre Dame five years ago.

Miami coach Dennis Erickson, who in his four seasons has tried )) to clean up the renegade image fostered by his predecessor, Jimmy Johnson, took full responsibility for his players' behavior. But he stopped short of saying that it was solely the Hurricanes' fault.

"Wherever we go, our opponents want to prove that they aren't going to be intimidated," Erickson said. "And sometimes that can create problems. But we can't worry about their problems. We have to control our own actions."

To do that, he said he will suspend for one game any Miami player who leaves the bench to join a fight. That is more in keeping with rules governing NCAA basketball, where fighting players can be suspended for future games. In football, the stiffest penalty is ejection.

Said Tranghese: "What we need is a deterrent. Right now there is no deterrent."

Former Baylor coach Grant Teaff, who will take over in January as executive director of the American Football Coaches Association, said the responsibility should not be on the NCAA to add yet another rule to an already clogged rulebook.

"It's all on the coaches," he said.

Until the football rules committee meets again next January, it's up to the conference commissioners to dole out their own punishments. After visits from Corrigan Sunday, North Carolina coach Mack Brown and N. C. State coach Mike O'Cain suspended the assistants involved in the post-game fracas in Raleigh that followed a wild, helmet-swinging melee before the half.

Corrigan also held a conference call with all nine ACC coaches Monday to get his point across: Control your own sidelines.

"As of today, our kids are going to know they can't come on the field," Corrigan said. "When things are going well for two or three years, you get a little sloppy. This is a good wake-up call. Football is a violent game. But you don't want lawlessness."

Maryland center Jamie Bragg said: "Coach [Mark] Duffner warned us that the ACC is going to crack down on this stuff. They're going to throw flags early."

John Adams, supervisor of officials for the Western Athletic Conference and secretary-editor of the NCAA rules governing football, said that he hopes the rules committee will look into a stiffer penalty for fighting after he sends out his annual questionnaire in January.

But Adams said when the subject was broached after last season, two-thirds of the coaches voted to keep the current penalties in place.

For a rule to be changed, it has to be recommended to a committee of 24 head coaches representing all levels of college football. From there it goes to a 12-man panel of coaches, and needs at least eight members to agree on a stiffer penalty. This year, as happened last season in basketball, a rule that was recommended first by the NCAA Presidents' Commission was put in to penalize players for abusive language.

Will the current rules for fighting be changed?

"The duration of the season will have an effect on what happens," Adams said yesterday. "We have 700 playing schools and 300 or more games every weekend. In a majority of those games, there are no penalties [for fighting]. So it's hard to predict what is going to happen."

But the subject obviously has become a prime topic of discussion. Penn State's Joe Paterno and Stanford's Bill Walsh both feel a hard-line approach is needed, but differ on whom the enforcer should be.

"I have a hard time exonerating the officials," Paterno said. "They have to penalize these players the first time they say something, and eject them. If they get the message out, then we might be able to do something."

Walsh countered: "My suggestion is that the university president visit with the football team prior to the season and say that if one of these things happens, they're going to be ineligible, period," he said.

"Of course, the alums would come down on [the president], saying they're just a bunch of young guys having fun. But I think it's in total contrast with what formal education represents."

IN THIS CORNER. . .

Results of college football bouts on Saturday:

Lightweight Division: Maryland at Virginia Tech. Fight took place toward the end of the first half, after a blocked field-goal attempt by the Terrapins. Result of the brawl: Two players ejected from each team. Result of the game: Hokies won, 55-28.

Welterweight Division: Duke (moving up in class) at Virginia. Fight took place early in the fourth quarter, after a Duke interception and taunting by Virginia QB Symmion Willis. The Duke bench raced to the Virginia sideline. Result of the brawl: Two players ejected from each team. Result of the game: Cavaliers won, 35-0.

Middleweight Division: North Carolina at North Carolina State. Fight started late in the second quarter after Tar Heels quarterback Jason Stanicek was run into his team's bench. Result of the brawl: No players ejected, but one assistant from each team suspended for this week's games after a post-game fight. Result of the game: Tar Heels won, 35-14.

Heavyweight Division: Miami at Colorado. Fight started near the end of the first half, on kickoff coverage after a touchdown by the Hurricanes. Both benches cleared. Result of the brawl: Seven Miami players, five Colorado players ejected. Result of the game: Hurricanes won, 35-29.

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