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Saturday Morning Fever & Saturday Evening Live (w/UM thoughts)

The football team did its 8 a.m. thing again Saturday. Storms herded them under the bleachers for a good chunk of practice, during which time practice turned into WalkThrough Fest '11. In the No Touchee jerseys, but accessorized with pads were running back Torrence Seymour and defensive back Sam Gervais. Wearing No Touchees and no pads were wide receivers Rockey Vann and Mike Jean-Louis; defensive linemen Jason Fitch and Andrew Mattox, offensive linemen Ceedrick Davis and James Wiggins; and safety Cain Eliot. 

Once the Michael Schumacher weather cleared, the men's soccer team won its preseason game with Barry, 2-1, Saturday morning.

Friday night, former FIU wide receiver Greg Ellingson caught both passes thrown his way Friday night for Jacksonville against Atlanta, for a 3-yard gain and a 20-yard gain. The latter, from Luke McCown, converted a third and 16 from the Jaguars' 4 with 2:34 left and allowed Jacksonville to run out the clock on a 15-13 win. Yeah, big deal on the W -- heck, it's preseason, so, it's not even a W, but a w -- but preseason's the one time coaches like to see the parts and construction more than the final building. But if Ellingson's catching passes from the third-string quarterback, he's going to need some injuries or special teams flashes to make the Jags' roster.

OK, settling in with some coffee (Senseo, 10% Kona Blend, double pod), Coca-Cola, Publix Popcorn Shrimp and the Jazz channel on the dish to discuss "What Does Nevin Shapiro Mean to FIU?"

1. Will it help FIU if the University of Miami football program gets an NCAA death penalty? -- Would it help Winn-Dixie if Publix went out of business for two years? That's about as likely to happen, however, as the NCAA Wormer's dropping the big one. The damage of the punishment at SMU in the 1980s exceeded the damage of the violations (and those violations ran deep, wide and high). Beyond ruining SMU's program until the roster was filled with players born when the penalties were handed down, it started the funeral march for the Southwest Conference. Nobody's too keen on seeing anything close to that collateral damage again.

The NCAA, in a bizarre way, actually knows Miami’s good for business. I know high schools that bring more fans on the road. The University of Miami alumni base? Relatively puny.   

But UM draws a national, visceral reaction. The rest of the Pac-10 hates USC. Michigan and those of us who grew up in other parts of Big Ten country during the Big Two, Little Eight era despise Ohio State. Even in the early 2000s, with a team of solid citizens who destroyed with style but without swagger, college football fans around the nation loved or loved to hate UM. That 1983-94 era still rings loudly to Generation X and older. The NCAA and member schools don’t care whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em as long as you’re watchin’ ‘em. Neutrality sucks when it comes to TV ratings.

So, no death penalty is coming, no matter how the NCAA puffs and postures.

2. Will FIU benefit after the NCAA levies whatever sanctions it does on UM?  DUH!

3. Well, how much will FIU benefit? Much less if they don’t build on last year’s momentum.

Most college-affiliated football games get won in recruiting. Some kids aren’t coming to Camp Mitch unless it’s the only scholarship offer they get. And many five-star prospects get starry-eyed only over programs that get annual visits from College Football GameDay and make annual visits to BCS bowls. Just because the alpha male letterman gets his car and allowance taken away doesn’t automatically mean the Chess Club president’s next in line for the homeroom hottie they both want.

But this is South Florida, home of the most parochial kids I’ve seen outside of New York (most worldly people in America…as long as they don’t cross the Hudson). I don’t know what it is. It used to be cultural, especially among Cuban-Americans and the black community. But whether it’s weather, comfort with community mindset or lack of educational preparation, too many South Florida kids don’t travel well. So many boomeranged back home over the years, it prompted activist Wesley Frater to start programs to teach our young men how to hack it in schools outside this tip of the country. Frater’s still doing those programs, 21 years later.

Anyway, there are going to be good recruits from down here who have no desire to venture more than a bus transfer from their neighborhood. And if “The U” runs out of scholarships and those young men see FIU sending players to the NFL, suddenly FIU’s looking like a viable option. Even more so if FIU stays a winner, doubly so if they stay a winner and move to a better conference.

As for recruiting outside South Florida, the Shapiro tales don’t necessarily help FIU across the board. They fit our national image -- glamorous, sexy, shady -- but parents tend to look askance at those kinds of parties and those kinds of slimy characters. It’s one thing to envision your son Edwin doing Red Bull and vodka shots at a frat party in Tuscaloosa. It’s another to envision Edwin being treated like the pole by a stripper during a boat party on the Intercoastal. “Hey, Edwin, I hear Iowa City can be a happening place…”

Unless a parent realizes most big time programs have at least one Nevin Shapiro hanging around, this is a minus for FIU.

More than one FIU sports coach has lamented over the years, sometimes, it’s easier to recruit outside South Florida than here. UM’s not the only school that can use South Beach and The Grove for recruiting. Again, all it takes is a few more NFL products from FIU. Coaches talk education and good citizenship to the media and some parents. To the recruits and the parents who can be seduced by dreams, they talk NFL. It’s why the college-affiliated football talent now is as spread as the offensive schemes. Kids have started to realize the NFL can find you anywhere, but you have to be on the field to get their notice.

Once your recruiting improves for a few years, it becomes cyclical. The same goes for recruiting on the slide.

UM’s already got a recruiting problem that’s also been faced by despised rival Notre Dame: fading tradition. The last cool UM superteam was the 2002 bunch that won the national championship against Ohio State. Or, rather, they did for the several seconds between that incomplete fourth down Ohio State pass and that iffy, incredibly late pass interference flag. To someone turning 18 or 19 in 2012, that’s the dark ages, back when people still bought CDs. And names like Craig Erickson, Melvin Bratton, Michael Barrow, the Blades Brothers, Jerome Brown, Randall Hill? Nevermind. Prehistoric.

The days the Orange Bowl rocked and roared recede into the past with increasing speed. The Orange Bowl’s not even there anymore to bring a see-and-remember as a kid drives by with his parents. UM plays in the Dolphins home, a place increasingly associated with football disappointment for South Florida. As it is, the Hurricanes fill their rented home only if Florida State or Florida visits. Otherwise, the crowd count is “blah.” Imagine what the crowds will be like with another year outside the national elite, then probably probation spinning them out for another few years.

What’ll be the difference in atmosphere between 25,000 in a 75,000-seat stadium and 18,000 in a 20,000-seat stadium? Neither is 88,000 in The Swamp, but only one of them looks pathetic.

As far as media attention, it takes even longer for media mindsets to change than fan mindsets. That won’t change while UM’s on probation.

I’m sure by focusing on recruiting I’ve forgotten some of the other aspects of this case that’ll touch FIU. Remind me and perhaps we’ll discuss. To quote Weekend Update, good night and have a pleasant tomorrow…

 

 

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