April 17, 2015

Weekend of Hope

This weekend at Camp Mitch will be about hope.

Not "hope" as a verb. To me, that connotates too much of dealing with things as you wish they were or as they will be if some long odds uncertainty comes through instead of dealing with things as they are. "If everything goes right this season, we'll win X games" describes sports hoping at its best.

"Hope" as a noun, on the other hand, means "a chance." That's what baseball, football and softball will be trying to give themselves or demonstrate they have starting Friday at 4 at the baseball stadium and running all the way through the finish of Sunday's 1 p.m. baseball and softball games.

Between those, at 7 p.m., the football team will try to nurture hope among its fans at the annual Spring Game. The "Friday Night Lights" promotion that starts at 6 p.m. includes schedule posters for the first 1,000 fans, a DJ, a meet-and-greet with the swimming & diving team (is there any other school, excluding Cal with Missy Franklin, who could use the swim team to draw fans to football stuff?) and all sorts of other giveaways.

Despite the running-in-place nature of spring football, there are things to be learned. Watching the 2013 Spring Game gave you that Otter-in-the-Dexter-Lake-Club feeling about the season. During last year's Spring Game, you could tell freshman quarterback Alex McGough possessed the bearing, style and enough smart decision-making that eventually Ron Turner would elevate him over incumbent E.J. Hilliard. Also obvious: running back injuries would give freshmen Alex Gardner and Napoleon Maxwell a shot at starting.

This year, the team wants to build a crowd, build hope in that crowd for 2015, build some kind of buzz, even muted buzz. Another year of dragging in the standings and in the stands by the athletic department's flagship sport puts a drag on the whole department. I'm interested to see how the inexperieneced safeties and wide receivers look as well as the offensive line. The defense, with advantages in experience and overall talent, should dominate.

Softball, Conference USA co-favorites in the preseason coaches' poll, can't get swept this weekend by C-USA best Western Kentucky or just making the conference tournament moves into sorcery-miracle category. The Panthers problem in that regard stands 5-6, Western pitcher Miranda Kramer. She's one of the best in the nation with a 0.91 earned run average, a 17-4 record and only 58 walks against 271 strikeouts. And one ace like her in softball can open up many options for a coach, especially over a doubleheader Saturday and a Sunday.

And then there's baseball, having one of those seasons when you feel like you're always spitting into the wind. The Panthers might get the eighth and final conference tournament spot by default. But if Charlotte or Old Dominion get hot for a weekend or two and FIU keeps taking one per weekend, as Richard Pryor used to say, "Cancel Christmas."

The baseball crew's also facing Hilltoppers, albeit slightly less scary. Western's Austin King, Josh Bartley and Ryan Thurston go 5.31, 5.44, 6.00 in earned run average. I expect some long games Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

April 16, 2015

Conference Titles in Tennis (Maybe) & Golf (More Likely) In One Week?

To start, give junior golfer Meghan MacLaren a slap on the back for being named to Conference USA's golf All-Academic team again. MacLaren, an English major, owns a 3.68 grade point average and four Golfer of the Week awards (should've been five) from this year.

MacLaren's once again the No. 1 player on an FIU team ranked No. 56 nationally by Golfstat.com and favored to win its second conference title in three years. You'd say FIU also gets the home course advantage as host of next week's Conference USA event, but this will all go down over in Fort Myers.

The 2013 Sun Belt champions finished fourth of 13 at the C-USA event last year and MacLaren was 12th overall. This year, she's had three medalist performances and eight of FIU's 11 individual top 10s. 

A great No. 1 can get you to the podium, but it's Nos. 2 through 5 that'll put you on the top step. For FIU to get it done next week at The Verandah Club, sophomore Coralia Arias, Camila Serrano (who tied MacLaren for 12th), Katerina Krasnova and Carla Jane can't spend the week arguing with their clubs.

Despite an undefeated conference record, 5-0, FIU's seeded fifth in the conference tennis tournament that begins today and has already been moved inside to dodge rain. A win against No. 12 Southern Mississippi, which FIU spanked 5-2 last month, puts them into the quarterfinal against the Middle Tennessee State/Western Kentucky winner. A win there likely runs the Panthers into No. 1 seed, two-time defending champion and host Rice.

By the way, the Panthers took down No. 2 seed Marshall, 4-3, at Camp Mitch on Mar. 28 with wins at Nos. 1-4 singles by senior Yana Koroleva, freshman Nerma Caluk, sophomore Nina Nagode and junior Kaitlin Brozovich.

Funky note: two teams in sports identified with Florida and the number of players from Florida on the two rosters? Two -- Miami Country Day graduate Ashley Shimmel and Palm Harbor University School graduate Jasmine Wade, both golfers.

 

April 10, 2015

FIU's Commissioner's Academic Medal Winners

If you're a full-time student-athlete and bring in a 3.75 grade point average, Conference USA honors you with the Commissioner's Academic Medal. FIU had 34 such athletes for the 2014-15 school year, 10th among full Conference USA member schools (Kentucky, South Carolina and New Mexico are in the league for men's soccer only.)

Baseball: Mitchell Robinson, Zack Soria.

Men's Basketball: Kris Gulley, Hassan Hussein.

Women's Basketball: Katrina Epnere, Zsofia Labady, Nikolina Todorovic.

Women's Golf: Katerina Krasnova.

Sand Vollyeball: Anna Budinska, Morgan Crawley, Darija Sataric.

Men's Soccer: Luca Giovine, Adam Sibiski.

Women's Soccer: Ellen Crist, Johanna Volz, Ashley Westberry.

Softball: Rachel Dwyer, Dominique Grossman, Jessica Hallett, Michaela Mills.

Swimming & Diving: Klara Andersson, Valerie Inghels, Anna Jonsson.

Tennis: Giulietta Boha, Nerma Caluk, Yana Koroleva.

Men's Track & Field: William Offor.

Men's Cross Country: Orlando Rodriguez.

Women's Track & Field: Tiffani Hernandez, Celine Murton.

Volleyball: Tia Clay, Kari Peterson, Jovanna Santamaria, Anabela Sataric.

 

 

 

172 FIU Athletes Make C-USA Commissioner's Honor Roll

(Thought I posted this last night. Apparently, I only saved it. A face-down-on-the-keyboard mistake.)

A 3.0 GPA gets you on the Conference USA Commissioner's Honor Roll, which 172 FIU athletes have done this year. FIU ranks eighth most among Conference USA's full membership schools. That's an improvement after 154 and tied for 12th last year.

The names are submitted to the conference by the schools.

Baseball (16): Brandon Cody, Charles Cormier, Cody Crouse, Ian Exposito, Julius Gaines, Evan Holland, David Lee, Spencer Levine, Dominic LoBrutto, Carlos Lopez, Andres Nunez, Mitchell Robinson, Austin Rodriguez, Jack Schaaf, Eduardo Silva, Zack Soria.

Men's Basketball (3): Larry Dennis (Huh? He transferred to a junior college at midseason), Kris Gulley, Hassan Hussein.

Women's Basketball (13): Jade Cheek, Jerica Coley (Say what? Everybody's happy she's still around campus doing graduate work, but how is she counting for this year? Was somebody just throwing names in there to see if C-USA was paying attemtion?), Marita Davydova, Arielle Durant (Uh, director of basketball oerations this year, not a player), Katrina Epnere, Aajah Hawkins, Amari Hawkins, Zsofia Labady, Tynia McKinzie (dismissed from the team at midseason), Taylor Shade, Nikolina Todorovic, Ciera Wheatley, Brianna Wright. 

Football (17): Chris Ayers, Richard Burrows, Christopher Cummins, Akil Dan-Fodio, Ricky Fernandez, Chris Flaig, Adrian Francois, Cody Hodgens, Yousif Khoury, Jose Laphitzondo, Fred Porter, Anthon Samuel, Donald Senat, Yohan Soares, Delmar Taylor, Scott Wade, Cory White.

Golf (8 -- the entire team): Coralia Arias, Sophie Godley, Carla Jane, Katerina Krasnova, Meghan MacLaren, Camila Serrano, Ashley Shimmel, Jasmine Wade.

Sand Volleyball (9): Marina Boulanger, Anna Budinska, Morgan Crawley, Aren Cupp, Alexa Diaz, Alexandria Johnson, Giovanna Pasos, Darija Sataric, Tina Toghiyani.

Men's Soccer (10): Quentin Albrecht, Roberto Alterio, Luca Giovine, Marvin Hezel, Nicholas Midttun, Deshawon Nembhard, Nico Pasquariello, Adam Sibiski, Robin Spiegel, Jesse Wear.

Women's soccer (16): Shelby Bowden, Ellen Crist, Marie Egan, Cyan Jean-Baptiste, Talia McMurtrie, Ryann Ramirez, Nikki Rios, Alyssa Robinson, Ashleigh Shim, Marlena Stablein, Sara Stewart, Nevana Stojakovic, Pat Tomanon, Johanna Volz, Madlen Weinhardt, Ashley Westberry.

Softball 10): Isabelle Barnes, Rachel Dwyer, Krystal Garcia, Samantha Green, Dominique Grossman, Jessica Hallett, Corinne Jenkins, Marisa McGregor, Michaela Mills, Rebekah Sanchez.

Swimming & Diving (20): Klara Andersson, Sabrina Beaupre (she's been off the eligibility clock since the 2014 NCAA's), Jessica Chadwick, Jenny Deist, Nadia Farrugia, Valerie Inghels, Anna Jonsson, Lily Kaufmann, Maria Lopez, Jean Madison, Alex Mayhew, Melissa Moreno, Sonia Perez-Arau (oh, come on! the only C-USA swimmer to score at the 2014 NCAAs. Lazy times in ), Valeriia Popova, Rebecca Quensel, Silvia Scalia, Alaina Smith, Kayley Tepe, Courtney VanderSchaaf, Becky Wilde. 

Tennis (6): Giulietta Boha, Valentina Briceno, Nerma Caluk, Yana Koroleva, Nina Nagode, Carlotta Orlando.

Men's cross country (7): Brandon Ballard, Ronny Greenup, Andres Magliano, Eli Monzon, Leonel Pozo, Daniel Puentes, Orlando Rodriquez.

Women's cross country (4): Adrienne Gerzeny, Katarina Rodriguez, Brittany Wasserbeck, Desmika White.

Men's track (10): Dylan Cook, Pablo Espitia, Garry Louima, Tyshawn Lytle, Desmond McGill, Luka Mustafic, Daniel Neptune, Wisdom Offor, Julian Santiago, Traivon Smith.

Women's track 12): Brittany Corbett, Phillicia Fluellen, Chandra Fulwood, Adrienne Gerzeny, Chelsea Gobourne, Anesha Gordon, Anna Heinzman, Tiffani Hernandez, Sharniece King, Symone Lindsay, Celine Murton, Lexis Shields.

Volleyball: Lucia Castro, Tia Clay, Maria Coukolis, Briana Gogins, Gloria Levorin, Anja Licka, Natalie Martinez, Kristine Monforte, Kari Peterson, Jovanna Santamaria, Anabela Sataric, Tina Toghiyani (wait, she already got counted back at sand volleyball...)

 

 

 

February 27, 2015

Swim & Dive Lauded for Water & Land Achievements; Gore to Marian

FIU's Conference USA championship win last week prompted a shuffling of the CollegeSwimming.com national mid-major rankings. FIU's now No. 4 among mid-majors.

Behind them in the rankings as they were in the pool are Florida Gulf Coast at No. 5; Conference USA's second place team, Rice, dropped from No. 5 to No. 8, incongruously one spot behind the conference's third place team, Western Kentucky.

FIU's team grade point average of 3.17 put it on the College Swimming Coaches Association of America's list of Scholar All-America teams, comprised of teams with a 3.0 GPA. Earlier this week, butterflier Valerie Inghels made the C-USA All-Academic team.

 

FOOTBALL PAST

FIU life didn't go well for Jakhari Gore. While sitting out the 2012 season as a transfer from LSU, the former Columbus High running back star crashed academically in 2012-13. He got arrested on a charges of robbery and false imprisonment in late August 2013. FIU coach Ron Turner jettisoned Gore, who entered a not guilty plea before the charges were dropped.

But Gore's apparently gotten things together. He Tweeted at me today that "God is Good and blessed me with another chance Marian University!"

The school on what's called "the near northwest side" of Indianapolis started football in 2007 and plays at the NAIA level. Good for him.

February 01, 2015

Flip-Flop & A Flap

Friday, I asked Ron Turner what he wanted most in recruiting this season.

"Always offensive and defensive line, that's first and foremost," Turner replied. "That's what you want to do. Either in numbers to get your depth or to get better players."

Of this week's two flips of FIU linemen commits, offensive linemen Richerd Desir-Jones (Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas) to Florida and Richard Williams (Miramar Everglades) to FAU, only the Williams one surprised me. Jones' visit to Florida this weekend was common knowledge when Turner said this Friday while answering a question:

"We had some guys who were committed and 'I think I need to look at this school' and I said, 'Well, I'm looking elsewhere, too.' Because I want guys who want to be here and believe in what we're doing. The guys we've got do. A lot of guys in this class have a lot of other options or potential options. Not all were offered by other schools, but they've had interest and taken visits, a good chance they would've been offered. Some were offered by some pretty impressive schools. They stuck to what they wanted to do. That's a sign of character."

I thought of Desir-Jones. I also thought of Deion Eakins, a long-committed offensive guard out of Jacksonville Trinity Christian who's getting preferred walk-on whispers in his ear from Oregon. But I really thought of Desir-Jones. Did Turner expect to lose Desir-Jones so made George Constanza preemptive breakup noises?

 

The upshot is I'm looking at four offensive linemen so far in this class and two defensive linemen, both of whom might wind up on offensive line. (Fermin Silva will be an outside linebacker). Interesting how schools such as Florida and the Hurricanes have poached FIU commits in the last few weeks. 

One more thing -- Turner won't spend a scholarship on a punter or kicker coming in, but he said any new masters of the foot will have the chance to kick or punt their way onto scholarship.

Also, The Herald learned Saturday that wide receiver Fred Porter got the remainder of his scholarship for this year reinstated. So, he'll have the first semester of his graduate school paid without loans. Porter graduated in December, but was told he would no longer be on scholarship and wouldn't be back next season as a fifth-year senior.

 

May 19, 2014

Baseball Stuff Like That; Donald in the Middle

A few things before I scratch out 15 inches for Wednesday's paper on FIU baseball headed for the Conference USA tournament...

Give it up to junior catcher/first baseman Aramis Garcia and senior closer Mike Gomez, members of the Conference USA's Baseball All-Academic Team. No other school put more than one player on the team. Both are sports and fitness majors. Gomez has a 3.79 grade point average and Garcia has a 3.78.

FIU plans to have Garcia behind the plate Wednesday against Rice. He missed 12 games with a right oblique injury and returned to play first base at the end of the season-closing series at Tulane.

At the other end of the battery, FIU plans to throw freshman Chris Mourelle at Rice, according to Turtle Thomas. They didn't throw Mourelle last week against Tulane once the staff felt the chance for an at-large NCAA bid was gone and don't want to throw ace Mike Franco twice on short rest in a conference tournament they now need to win to make the NCAA tournament.

Also, Rice saw Mourelle only for three innings after Robby Kalaf took a shot off his right hand in the first inning in the third game of Rice's sweep earlier this year. Mourelle faced 16 batters, gave up five hits and only one run (it was earned).

FOOTBALL

FIU fifth-year senior Donald Senat made the 64-player spring watch list for the Dave Rimington Award, given annually to the best center in college football. 

Dave Rimington was the best center of his era, a dominating player on Nebraska's 1981 and 1982 teams, seasons that saw him become the first two-time winner of the Outland Trophy as the nation's outstanding interior lineman. Rimington didn't make All-Decade teams. He made All-Century teams. Though he was part of the 1983 NFL Draft's first round, generally considered the greatest first round ever, his seven-season NFL career never quite lived up to the hype. That hype existed for a center should tell you something by itself.

 

 

May 14, 2014

APR Stars (women's hoop, tennis) & Scrubs (men's track)

In the Academic Progress Rate reports released by the NCAA minutes ago, FIU didn't suffer any single-season disasters from 2012-13 and only men's basketball remains in the penalty zone in multi-year tracking, although football is close. That men's basketball showed a significant single season jump opened the door to the NCAA letting FIU off postseason grounding, but leaves them still facing some minor penalties -- practice reduction and limits on number of games.

Let's start with the good news. Perfect 1000 APRs for 2012-13 were attained by women's indoor & outdoor track, women's basketball, golf, tennis, cross country and men's soccer. Baseball came in with a 990.

On the low side were men's track, 897 indoors and 933 outdoor for 2012-13. Football's single season APR was 926. You hit 925, you get a nasty note from The Four-Letter Organization. You get below 900 for multiple years, time for the penalty box. Men's basketball, as previously mentioned, showed single-season hops, going from 750 to 959.

The multi-year APRs show basketball at 866, up slightly from 858. Football is at 933. Women's basketball provides FIU's zenith to the men's nadir in multi-year APR, 995, just ahead of tennis' 992.

MULTI-YEAR APRs

Women's Basketball   995

Women's Tennis   992

Women's Cross Country 987

Women's Golf  983

Swimming & Diving 982

Women's Outdoor Track 978

Women's Indoor Track 975

Men's Soccer 975

Softball 972

Women's Volleyball 968

Women's Soccer 955

Men's Cross Country 950

Baseball 948

Men's Outdoor Track 948

Men's Indoor Track 947

Football 933

Men's Baskteball 866

 

SINGLE YEAR APRs

Women's Basketball 1000

Women's Cross Country 1000

Women's Tennis 1000

Men's Soccer 1000

Women's Indoor Track 1000

Women's Outdoor Track 1000

Baseball 990

Women's Volleyball 979

Women's Soccer 976

Swimming & Diving 962

Men's Basketball 959

Softball 957

Men's Outdoor Track 933

Football 926

Men's Indoor Track 897

 

 

May 08, 2014

Jenkins All-Academic Team; Can't Spell MLS With FIU

FIU sophomore pitcher Corinne Jenkins went 15-7 with a 3.37 earned run average this season. She's also a psychology major with a 3.74 grade point average.

Which is why Jenkins made the Conference USA Softball All-Academic team.

MLS

If you're one of those who has been sold by athletic department administrators on the dream of David Beckham's Major League Soccer franchise choosing FIU as a home and injecting $255 million into the athletic department, here's the alarm buzzing, "Wake up!"

Beckham, potential co-owner Simon Fuller and lobbyist John Alschuler said during their meeting with The Herald today that MLS has told them the stadium must be downtown. Alschuler later said, "We don't want to be south, we don't want to be west, we don't want to be north."

They envision a cool, hip, yuppie crowd walking to the game from offices, condos and nearby parking lots. In other words, not what you'd get from a suburban site.

Time to find another possible source of Other People's Money for the athletic department.

May 07, 2014

Hoop Scholars, Softball & Hard Time

The NCAA threw out Public Recognition Awards to teams with Academic Progress Rates in the top 10 percent of their sports. One FIU team made it this year, with the APR rates based on the 2009-2013 academic years -- women's basketball.

All APR rates will be released later.

SOFTBALL

First baseman Stephanie Texiera was voted Second Team All-Conference USA and was a unanimous coaches' choice for Conference USA Freshman of the Year Award. Texeira and Gabby Spallone made the conference's All-Freshman team.

Still...how does the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament have only one player make first or second team all-conference?

One thing that wrinkled my already sun-wrinkled brow about FIU in this weekend's Conference USA softball tournament at FAU: the Panthers are busing up this afternoon for Thursday's 1:30 game against East Carolina. 

What, I thought, they're worried about getting caught on the Turnpike behind some 1983 IROC Z28 Camaro rear-ending a beige Toyota Camry and being late to the Thursday afternoon game?

No, what they're worried about is 2012 Sun Belt Tournament at FAU Redux. FIU opened against Troy in a rain-delayed game that didn't get called for the night until Letterman. The Panthers dragged back home, got to bed in the wee hours and showed up groggy to finish a 4-1 loss. After an afternoon nap, a still sonambulent FIU got dusted 9-1 by South Alabama.

So, this year, they're busing up, getting into the hotel, getting a good night's sleep, then playing.

MEN'S SOCCER

What is it with FIU athletes getting busted on weed-related charges five seconds after they finish their eligibility or degree?

Walk-on transfer Luke Bray started 10 of the 12 games he played for FIU last season, picked up no goals or assists, and three of five games in 2012. Bray has filed an affidavit for indigent status after getting busted on a felony possession charge and charged with possession with intent to distribute. His next hearing is May 29.

Funny how this might've fit under either of the headlines of the last two blog posts. Not as funny as Bray's name being removed from last year's roster on the FIU website and his bio removed once you click on his name in the 2012 roster.

 

 

April 17, 2014

Will hustle for food; MacLaren Academic All-Conference

Somebody in FIU Athletics better start raising some money.

This was brought up to me by a veteran of similar-sized athletic departments after the NCAA Legislative Council declared schools should be able to give their athletes unlimited meals or snacks in connection with games or practices.

The NCAA was embarrassed by University of Connecticut point guard and Final Four Outstanding Player Shabazz Napier saying he sometimes went to bed "starving." With the whole "should they be paid?" argument swinging away from them, this rule made for a better public relations move than saying, "Clearly, Napier needs to learn how to handle his money because, looking at some of his portly pals on the football team, there's no shortage of food available to athletes and that football team is batspit compared to the basketball team."

Anyway, this becomes another expense for any athletic department. It's a bit more onerous on a department that's near the top of the nation in relying on student fees for funding. This is in addition to the meal plan that's part of an athletic scholarship.

People think about how much extra this means when feeding the football and basketball teams. Yeah, that's no trip to Hamburger Wednesday at McDonald's, but think about everybody else getting fed. Think about track throwers and baseball players. Take a look at the softball, volleyball (sand and indoor) and soccer (either gender) teams -- not many salad-eaters there. Parents of swimmers can tell grocery bill stories that give Publix owners a Saturday night happy. 

FIU can't hit up the students again. Well, it can, but not without drawing the appropriate ridicule. No, somebody in FIU Athletics better start kissing some rings or things and getting some money from some new wallets.

Time to feed the family.

NCAA ADOPTS IT'S OWN "TOM BRADY RULE"

This new football flagable from Wednesday, according to NCAA.org...

"The rule specifically covers a scenario in which a quarterback is in a passing posture with one or both feet on the ground. In that situation, no defensive player rushing unabated can hit him forcibly at or below the knee. The defensive player also may not initiate a roll or lunge and forcibly hit the quarterback in the knee area or below."

GOLF

Sophomore Meghan MacLaren, who led FIU to the Sun Belt Conference title last year and has a 3.49 grade point average, has been named to the Conference USA Golf All-Academic team. The Conference USA championship will be Monday through Wednesday in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

April 15, 2014

FIU no longer grounded by grades; more water women;

The official Academic Progress Rates for 2012-13 won't be announced until June. But the Dean Wormers at the NCAA have seen FIU's grades and have decided there was enough APR upward movement in the season under Richard Pitino to take FIU off punishment and let the men's basketball team return to postseason play next season.

 

SWIMMING & DIVING

Johanna Gustafsdottir went back home to Iceland to rip through her native land's national meet, walking out with three firsts, two seconds and a national record in the 400 individual medley of 4:53.24. She also won the 200 freestyle with a 2:04.94 and was part of the 800 free relay winners.

FIU's 400 IM ace, Sonia Perez, was named an Honorable Mention All-American by the College Swim Coaches Association of America this week. Perez became the first FIU swimmer -- and was the only Conference USA swimmer this year -- to score at the NCAA meet, taking 13th in the 400 IM. She also swam the 200 IM and 200 backstroke at the NCAA meet before being named Conference USA's Swimmer of the Year.

 

April 11, 2014

Good News, Bad News about FIU's Commissioner's Academic Medalists

Conference USA honors those athletes with a 3.75 grade point average or better with the Commissioner's Academic Medal. These FIU athletes received that hardware:

Swimming & Diving: Klara Andersson, Anna Jonsson, Lily Kaufmann, Marie Therese Nord, Marina Ribi.

Women's Basketball: Marita Davydova, Katrina Epnere, Zsofia Labady.

Women's Soccer: Ellen Crist, Johanna Volz, Paula Zuluaga.

Sand volleyball: Morgan Crawley, Aren Cupp, Savannah Davis.

Volleyball: Jessica Egan, Anabela Sataric

Golf: Ashley Shimmel

Softball: Samantha Green

Men's Cross Country: Orlando Rodriguez.

Good news for them.

The bad news is 19 medalists represents the fewest of any full-time Conference USA school.

 

April 10, 2014

154 FIU athletes make C-USA Commissioner's Honor Roll; Sand up to 6th

These athletes maintained at least a 3.0 grade point average. Those with a 3.75 GPA will be announced Friday as recipients of the Commissioner's Academic Medal.

FIU's 154 tied them with North Texas for 12th most in Conference USA. The team with the most on the list for FIU? Swimming & Diving, which starts their days earlier than any other team and remain the athletic department's staunchest supporters as far as attendance at FIU sporting events.

For those on whom subtlety is lost, that's a nice way of saying, "Spare me the excuses by those athletes and teams that come up short academically."

Baseball (13): Alex Beyersdorf, Nathan Burns, Zachary Carter, Charles Cormier, Kolby Follis, Julius Gaines, Aramis Garcia, Mike Gomez, Carlos Lopez, Louis Silverio, Tyler Sullivan, Zach Sweety, Roche Woodard.

Men's Basketball (3): Adrian Diaz, Marco Porcher Jimenez, Dominique Williams

Women's Basketball (12): Aleksandra Bodlovic, Jerica Coley, Marita Davydova, Katrina Epnere, Karrah Johnson, Zsofia Labady, Tynia McKinzie, Timeyin Oritsesan, Kiandre'a Pound, Taylor Shade, Nikolina Todorovic, Brianna Wright

Men's Cross Country (7): Brandon Ballard, Dylan Cook, Daniel Fernandez, Brandon Jones, Eli Monzon, Daniel Puentes, Orlando Rodriguez.

Football (10): Richard Burrows, Ricky Fernandez, Cody Hodgens, Yousif Khoury, Fred Porter, Donald Senat, Austin Taylor, Delmar Taylor, Cory White, Mitch Wozniak.

Golf (6): Coralia Arias, Shelby Coyle, Sophie Godley, Carla Jane, Meghan Maclaren, Jasmine Wade.

Sand volleyball (6): Marina Boulanger, Ellyssa Citron, Maria Coukoulis, Alexa Diaz, Tina Toghiyani, Airam Trillo.

Men's Soccer (9): Roberto Alterio, Luke Bray, Gonzalo Frechilla, Sebastian Frings, Marvin Hezel, Nicholas Midttun, Daniel Mion, David Mitchell, Robin Spiegel.

Women's Soccer (16): Shelby Bowden, Ellen Crist, Marie Egan, Talia McMurtrie, Crystal McNamara, Morgan Morris, Jessica Palacio, Nicole Rios, Alyssa Robinson, Ashleigh Shim, Marlena Stablein, Sara Stewart, Patrica Tomanon, Johanna Volz, Madlen Weinhardt, Paula Zuluaga.

Softball (11): Samantha Green, Corinne Jenkins, Breanna Kaye, Brianne Kimura, Christine Marte, Marisa GcGregor, Kennah Orr, Rebekah Sanchez, Rachel Slowik, Gabriella Spallone, Stephanie Texeira.

Swimming & Diving (20): Jennifer Alfani, Klara Andersson, Sabrina Beaupre, Mary Boucher, Jessica Chadwick, Sarah D'Antoni, Katelyn Duranso, Nadia Farrugia, Anna Jonsson, Lily Kaufmann, Jean Madison, Danielle Meara, Melissa Moreno, Maria Therese Nord, Sonia Perez Arau, Valeriia Popova, Marina Ribi, Alaina Smith, Courtney Vander Schaaf, Rebecca Wilde.

Tennis (6): Giuletta Boha, Valentina Briceno, Tina Mohorcic, Nina Nagode, Carlotta Orlando, Aleksandra Trifunovic.

Men's Track & Field (7): Jamal Dorviller, Pablo Espitia, Christopher Lickfield, Garry Louima, Christopher Prophete, Roberto Salvador, Aubrey Smith.

Women's Track & Field (14): Maria Alea, Chantae Barnett, Destiney Burt, Cierra Campbell, Chandra Fulwood, Jessica Gehrke, Adrienne Gerzeny, Anna Heinzman, Tiffani Hernandez, Michelle Howell, Tetisheri Menna, Isolda Montiel, Bianca Morrison, Caroline Reiser.

SAND VOLLEYBALL

Wednesday's American Volleyball Coaches Association Sand Volleyball poll saw 13-2 FIU tied for sixth with UCLA. FIU began the season ranked No. 9 and moved up to No. 7 the last two weeks. Southern Cal ranks No. 1 with preseason No. 1 Pepperdine at No. 2. Hawaii is third and Florida State, which handed FIU one of its losses, 4-1, is No. 4. 

This weekend, they'll be at the Fiesta on Siesta Tournament in Siesta Key.

 

 

March 04, 2014

SAAC up & get some Compliance

Friday's Board of Trustees Athletics Committee meeting featured so much conversation on Compliance and the Student Athlete Academic Center, places that define "turnover" and "fumbling" better than a bad wishbone offense could, that Senior Associate AD Bobby Staub didn't get to make his presentation on the $2 million initiative to build up facilities for women's sports -- finishing the softball stadium, locker rooms for softball and golf and the like. Allegedly, the department already has $1 million of the $2 million.

Let's be blunt about Compliance and the SAAC. Nobody notices when Compliance slips up on a shot putter. A softball starter lost to academics? The interest barely makes it out of the locker room. Not that shot putters and softball outfielders don't work just as hard in class or at their craft. I'm talking just interest here.

But when ineligible basketball players take the court (Ray Taylor), key players can't take the court (Marita Davydova, whose loss FIU coach Cindy Russo again Saturday called "catastrophic"), the basketball team can't go play after school with the other boys and the football team loses three of its most talented players to GPAs that look like breathalyzer tests, many notice.

So, Compliance is considered a problem. The SAAC is considered a problem, though men's basketball and football are the only teams with more GPAs under 3.0 than above and three sports (women's basketball, women's tennis and men's cross country) have none under 3.0.

Committee chairman Jorge L. Arrizurieta opened the meat of the meeting by asking about Compliance and the SAAC, "What’s the game plan to fix the issues that have taken place in the past? We’ve come too long a way in athletics at this great institution to risk falling behind in some of these issues. It’s not an option. My concern from a mangement standpoint is from Compliance, we’ve had three program directors and two interims in the last six years. In the case of the SAAC, as I understand it, three program directors, three interim in the same time period. That’s got to stop. Something has to change.”

While Arrizurieta said he wanted to look forward and not belabor FIU's failures in those departments, that's hard to avoid. So Christopher Schoemann, a long-used compliance consultant in the Collegiate Sports Practice Group of the Kansas law firm Bond, Shoeneck & King, was called up to explain Davydova and Taylor's ineligibility.

Taylor's problem, as reported often, was that he didn't withdraw his declaration for the 2012 NBA Draft soon enough (Digression: shouldn't somebody have told him, "Ray, you're a nice mid-major player. But you're a 5-6 point guard who isn't exactly dominating the Sun Belt. What business do you have declaring for the NBA Draft?).

Davydova's problem is that she, apparently, played some games for Russian State Agrarian University and should've had to sat out a season upon transferring to FIU. Some members of the committee seemed surprised Compliance whiffed on situations that turned on basic, factual information that Compliance had. It is sort of like watching someone strike out in batting practice.

New Compliance head Hank Harrawood introduced himself to the committee, which discussed Compliance being moved under the Athletic Department's roof.

"I believe the Compliance officer should report to the General Counsel," opined Trustee C. Delano Gray, whose bio speaks of his great experience with internal auditing (speaking of internal auditing, that audited 2013 football attendance report should've been ready in late January...). "I prefer that the head coaches or the folks in athletics doesn't have the influence that is likely to happen. I used to be an internal auditor. I have experienced that every now and then, the people you are working with have some kind of influence in what you do."

Schoemann, a former Compliance director himself, said, "Nationally, it is a mixed bag. Has the trend been to have these offices report outside of athletics? The trend has been. I've seen these programs work well solely from an athletics perspective where there is no outside tether to the office of the general counsel, president or provost; and I've seen them work poorly when they're placed entirely of the athletics purview. Hank Harrawood becomes a de facto assistant athletic diretor because of the nature of his job. He becomes a member of Pete's staff. That's true whether or he would report to the general counsel or the office of the president or directly to Pete.

"What's imperative, is that in any type of analysis that the NCAA does with respect to institutional control -- despite the fact they operate with the old Supreme Court adage with respect to pornography that they "know it when they see it" but have never defined it -- that's the litmus test that gets applied to you once that bell gets rung and the NCAA shows up on your doorstep. When we're doing our analysis of institutions, we want to make sure those outside tethers are engaged. That (new Compliance director) Hank (Harrawood) and his counterparts have the necessary access to those offices (of general counsel and president)."

Arrizurieta, referring back to the instability at the top of the department, said part of the reason he supported the move was "Whatever we've done hasn't worked."

General counsel Kristina Raattama said in dealing with Compliance outside Athletics, “Pete feels like he has accountability and no control and I feel like I have responsibllity and no control. When you combine that function into the athletic department, you have a situation where everybody knows what they're responsible for.”

Pete Garcia said, "Hank has been given a directive by all of us that if there's a major issue...his first phone call is to the president’s office, his second phone call is to the legal department." 

The SAAC remains outside athletics. It also remains without a director. Dr. Stephen Fain, the most recent past faculty athletic representative, has been serving as the interim director. Dean of Undergraduate Education Douglas L. Robertson presented the State of the SAAC Report. A committee with the task of finding a new director has a start date of July 1.

"We anticipate filling the director's position with a director who will die in the position," Robertson said. After that brought unintended laughter from the room, "I meant of old age. I meant retire in the position. I anticipate his start date will be July 1, but hope it will be sooner."

(How is it FIU can replace a head basketball coach in a week but takes 10 months to start to find a new SAAC Director?)

The next director comes into a SAAC that gets a budget bump of around $80,000 next year to just over $840,000. Here's how some of that money will be spent:

$60,000 for a business analyst working out of the SAAC who's involved in the building and care of an automated NCAA player certification system and provides tech support.

$26,000 for a bump in the SAAC Director's salary. Dr. Phil Moses salary was $105,000 when he was hired in 2011.

$5,000 as an "equity salary adjustment" for the SAAC Tutor Coordinator, who now makes $35,000.

$16,000 for an "equity adjustment" for the SAAC tutors.

$84,000 for a "significant increase in tutoring hours and staffing."

$10,000 for "additional staffing for book distribution."

$9,000 for "productivity tools for SAAC staff (cell phones and service...)"

$7,000 for GradesFirst, an academic tracker designed for student-athletes.

Those are yearly recurring costs. Under one-shot costs, ther are...

$252,000 for "automation of the NCAA player certification process."

$21,000 for replacing all 35 desktop computers in the SAAC Computer Lab ($600 per computer)

$6,000 for replacing all eight SAAC staff desktop computers.

$176,000 to "improve the SAAC environment" and add five offices. 

Dean Robertson seemed quite excited about bringing Graduation Success Initiative-like metrics, which helped boost on-time grauation rates from 41 percent to 50 percent at FIU in two years, to the SAAC.

"We have invested significantly in predictive analytics to target students who are at-risk or who are on track to graduate, but may not know it an need some additional support," Robertson said.

All this means not much if you don't have athletes who give a good darn enough to crack a book. After all, you can lead a horse's butt to water, but you can't make him think.

Arrizurieta asked why some of these GSI-like ideas and technologies, including real-time updating, "weren't initiated before? Or, was it and it wasn't executed?"

Robertson answered with something that I think of almost as the FIU mantra: the school grew faster than the infrastructure.

"The institution has invested heavily in creating the infrastructure for the GSI that involves a big investment in predictive analytics and various kinds of academic tracking tools that are expensive to build have now been built," he said. "Those tools and expertises -- for example, we now have an office with five behavioral scientists doing these kinds of analytics -- is now in place. That allows the proper support of a SAAC diredctor in providing these kinds of analytics that was not there before."

As for information reporting, Garcia said when Robertson spoke to the faculty senate some time back, Robertson asked for progress reports on the student-athletes.

"There has been a very small percentage return on progress reports (13 percent)," Garcia said. "The reason I’m saying this is they need to know what kids need what tutoring now. They don’t need it at the end of the semester when they’ve failed. As good as I think our SAAC people right now, they can’t help these kids if they don’t know what classes they need help with." 

 

February 24, 2014

Ramble On

While the stick and ball teams take a break from using their bats on visiting teams like they owe FIU money, swimming and diving prepares to leave for Atlanta and the Conference USA meet.

(They won't need to do any Internet panhandling, but the volleyball team is still at http://www.gofundme.com/FIUVolleyball, $195 toward their goal of $6,000. While you're on the site, you can contribute to the Oswego State Synchronized Skating Team's trip travel to nationals. Or the Coppin Academy Girls Basketball team trying to raise $6,000 to attend a summer camp.)

Lack of diver depth hurt FIU in the Sun Belt meet and could do the same here after senior Sabrina Beaupre takes the 10-meter platform and at least one of the two springboards. She's favored in all three.

In the pool, C-USA's tougher than The Belt and FIU no longer has Madame Butterfly, Marina Ribi, to pick up points in that dastardly stroke. Still, junior Johanna Gustafsdottir ranks first in the 200 backstroke and second in the 100 back. Senior Sonia Perez Arau comes in with the best 400 IM time in the conference. Klara Andersson is a close third in the 50 freestyle, which she won at last year's Sun Belt meet.

And FIU will bring home a relay win or two. I'm thinking 400 medley and 800 free. Just noticed -- the common thread in every school record relay is Gustafsdottir swimming the first leg. That makes sense. She's strongest in back, the first stroke of a medley relay. Her next strongest stroke is free. Classic relay set up uses the second fastest to lead off with the fastest anchoring.

I'd be shocked if the water women can give the athletic department its first Conference USA title. Defending champion Rice is still strong and East Carolina looks like a possible problem. That leaves baseball and softball -- track? Name the last conference champion without a coach -- and both of them get blocked. Rice owns baseball while UAB and Tulsa tussle over softball.

No, the baseball team isn't outscoring the football team after eight games. They were after three games (25-23) and four games (30-23). But if you just count scoring against Division I/FBS opponents, it's closer than you think after eight games: 78-63 for football.

When I saw FIU football coach Ron Turner at FIU Baseball Stadium with his family Saturday on the concourse on the first base line. I thought, "Boy, he'll go anywhere to see some offense." The Sunday juxtaposition couldn't have been more ripe -- FIU sports and centertainment head Pete Garcia attending hte baseball game with Butch Davis, the currently unemployed former coach at the Universty of Miami.

Now, if Davis wants back in coaching, he's got to cleanse himself by working somewhere else for a year or two. Obviously, FIU would be a fine place for that. Maybe Davis has changed his mind about FIU. He certainly could've joined his buddy Garcia a year ago and a few candidates (or their representatives) said they were told, "don't bother, this is Butch's job." Garcia's fits of temper and rash decisions would do Lewis Carroll's Queen of Hearts proud -- thus why some in the department call the second floor area housing Garcia's office "The Tower of Terror" -- but firing Mario Cristobal without a card like Davis to play exceeds Garcia's Yosemite Sam quotient.

 

North Carolina was on the hook for Davis' money, so nothing about that green affected Davis taking FIU's green. A theory I formed while writing about Saturday's 10-0 baseball thumping of Stony Brook: Davis learned the horrible academic situation facing FIU football in 2013 and decided to let someone else deal with that academic barf. If I knew about it in December, 2012, why wouldn't Davis?

This weekend's baseball stories were easy to write. FIU won three blowouts, scored early in each one and I didn't have to spend any time waiting to talk to coaches or players or transcribing their quotes. I did talk to Stony Brook Friday night starter Frankie Vanderka, one of the better pitchers FIU will see in non-conference play, about what pitch Julius Gaines drove for a home run and what he thought of FIU's lineup. On Saturday and Sunday, I wasn't going to waste the Stony Brook coach's time asking him his opinion of a team that just waxed him by 10 runs.

I'd have liked to talk to Aramis Garcia, hitting .500 over the first eight games; or freshman JC Escarra, with a team-leading .577 on-base percentage; or Josh Anderson, last year's team leader in doubles with 22, already with five this year and 14 RBI.

Alas, FIU coaches and players were unavailable for comment to the media. I'd been told before Friday's game that would be the case. Officially, it was Turtle Thomas' decision so everyone could remain focused on baseball without any distractions. Logically, that dog didn't hunt. Postgame interviews are, you know, postgame and about 18 hours before the next game. They take less than 10 minutes total time, two or three players and Thomas combined, once they start. There wasn't media, only a medium -- me -- for three of the first five games (as well as Friday and Saturday). And the Panthers looked none too distracted in winning their first five games. Also, Thomas does answer questions from FIU media relations after the game.

Of course, this came from above Thomas. Thomas' bosses are Garcia and Senior Associate AD Bobby Staub. This was a predictable reaction to the Dennis Wiseman story, but mostly because I'd long ago heard that neither was too pleased about a series of public records requests I've been making since December on a broad range of things. Sometimes, I just feel there's information I should have. Sometimes, I'm curious. Sometimes, I smell something.

Marketing's now Staub's thing, by the way. He's now the most motivated salesman in FIU athletics. In addition to his $110,000 salary, Staub gets $1,000 bonuses for football season student attendance being above $20,000, then another grand if over $30,000; basketball season student attendance over 5,000, then 10,000; basketball season tickets over 500 and over 750; baseball ticket revenue over $15,000 and $20,000; football ticket and sponsorship revenue (excluding Pepsi) over $1 million and over $1.5 million; sells the naming rights to FIU Baseball Stadium or five other new athletics assets; and sells all the suites for one season for football and basketball.

By the way, the victory song for FIU during the Turtle Thomas era used to be "New York, New York." Not sure why, but it's become custom since 2008. Now, under directions from marketing, it's Kool and the Gang's "Celebration," both the highest charting and worst Kool and the Gang single ever. Feel the cliche.

Oh, I forgot, The Master Plan Development for Camp Mitch from Feb. 14 still shows a soccer field surrounded by a track as a Future Development. Not even Funded or Likely Funded. Future Development.

To let you know how far into the future that might be, also in that category is Stadium Upper Bowl Expansion. That'll be about as useful as a weave store for skinheads until Ron Turner turns into Dr. Alchemy followed by Staub turning into P.T. Barnum.

That would be something completely different.

 

 

 

January 28, 2014

Academic "attaboys" for 4 athletes

The National Consortium of Academics and Sports put four FIU athletes among the 40 nationwide that received 2013 Academic Momentum Awards.

Defensive end Denzell Perine, a criminal justice major; pitcher Mike Franco, also a criminal justice major; golfer Sophie Godley, a recreation and sports management major; and track thrower Alysha Lewis were each honored for academic improvement and having an impact through academics on classmates, teammates, advisors and professors.

December 19, 2013

Grades & eligibility; Stewart honored

Wednesday was a furlough day for me. No pay, no play. Grades posted at FIU. For student-athletes and athlete-students, that meant "play or no play."

OK, let's be real. Nobody's worrying about the volleyball team, the track team, the swim team, etc. because nobody needs to worry about those teams when it comes to grades. The football team, on the other hand, looked at those grades like it was National Re-Signing Day.

"Grades was better than I thought" tweeted wide receiver Glenn Coleman, ineligible last season. This morning, he tweeted, "It feel good looking at them grades."

From 2013 ineligible wide receiver Willis Wright: "Got My Grades Back, All I Want To Say Is, DEAR GOD--THANK YOU!!!"

I'll bet Ron Turner's saying the same thing. That's two playmakers back for FIU next season if they can keep it up. Not saying either is out of the academic woods yet.

WOMEN'S SOCCER

As I Tweeted yesterday (I can't blog, but my Twitter is mine), redshirt sophomore midfielder Sara Stewart got honored as one of the  Conference USA Fall Spirit of Service Honorees. The award gives notice to those who combine exemplary community service wtih academic achievement and on-the-field performance. 

 

 

December 12, 2013

What Did The Turner Say?

Ron Turner didn’t know what he got himself into when he came to FIU. Now that he’s into it, however, he’s not planning on marching out any time soon. And Turner seems to think he accomplished the first step in a turnaround during this 1-11 2013 season.

That won’t please some of the parents who posted on this blog, e-mailed me or took to Twitter to rip Turner as stodgy. It won’t please the parents and fans who see Turner as yet another near senior citizen coming down to South Florida on a semi-retirement plan (see “Ted Aceto,” “too many Florida Panthers and Dolphins free agents”).

My doubts about Turner; suspicions about his hiring and criticisms of his strategy/personnel deployment have been well-documented on this blog. That said, I do wonder how much FIU fan/parent criticism of him comes from South Florida parochialism.

Don Strock connected Dolphins eras like the Venetian Causeway connects islands. He backed up each of the three Super Bowl starters in Dolphins history (Bob Griese, David Woodley, Dan Marino) over his 15-season Dolphins career. A well-tanned lover of football and golf, the Pennsylvania native out of Virginia Tech might as well have been 100 percent South Floridian when hired as FIU’s first coach.

Mario Cristobal? A 305 guy to the bone. You know the personal history.

Turner? From California and uses a more run-heavy version of the West Coast offense, but seems purely Midwestern. He’s known for being Illinois’ head coach and the Chicago Bears offensive coordinator. Besides, even that so-called West Coast Offense is Midwestern, developed in Cincinnati.

(Digression: Bill Walsh created it while with a Bengals assistant after a shoulder injury to big-armed Greg Cook, whom Walsh called in the late 1990s “perhaps the best quarterback talent we’ve seen,” left the Bengals with noodle-armed Virgil Carter. The Bengals ran the offense through the 1970s and into the early 1980s. Ken Anderson won a few passing titles. Unfortunately for Cincinnati, they shared a division with the 1970s Steelers. So, it wasn’t until the Walsh-coached 49ers started winning Super Bowls in the 1980s with a refined version of the offense that it got nicknamed “The West Coast Offense.” Coincidentally, San Francisco beat Cincinnati for its first Super Bowl win. Digression over…)

Turner’s got his way of doing things. His way could be rocketing toward a head-on with the FIU way of doing things and the South Florida way of doing things.

He clearly had some things to get off his chest about his first 11 months on the job. He went into a 24-minute soliloquy that bounced around quite a bit. Even at that, there were a couple of things I think he wanted to touch on but didn’t.

Turner started with, “I believe and I think everyone in this program believes our program is ascending and we are heading in the right direction. Now, people on the outside can look at the record and look at the scores and say, ‘That’s ridiculous.’”

The reason Turner says that from his chair is what he saw upon arrival. And that's a more detailed version of what you’ve read some of here since last January.

“When I first got here, I was in shock,” he said. “I was, like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ We didn’t have a day go by, not one day went by, when somebody didn’t do something wrong. Somebody didn’t get into trouble. Sometimes, more than one. It could be from getting arrested, to the off the field problems…I got calls constantly. “So-and-so’s not going to class” “So-and-so didn’t get his study hours.” “He missed a workout.” I’m like, ‘This is like dealing with second graders.’

“I was shocked. I’ve never been in a program where it was like that. I was at Illinois and we were 0-11 my first year. We had a lot of problems. And we had some of that. I never had it to the degree it was here, where guys just blatantly were not doing what they were supposed to do. Coaches would call guys, “Can you come in and meet me at 2 o’clock?” “Yeah, Coach, I’ll be there at 2 o’clock” and not show up. I’ve never seen that in my life.”

“We had 12 players ineligible, which is unbelievable. I’ve never been around that many in my life who were ineligible when I got here or right on the border and didn’t get it done.”

Of course, that group included, “Our top five or six receivers. I don’t know anybody in the country who can lose their top five or six receivers and go out to play. And, arguably, top two running backs, for sure our top running back. That’s not to mention defensive linemen – one transferred (Fadol Brown) and three were ineligible.”

And, Turner said the player attitude was that “It’s OK, I’ll just redshirt.” Turner paused. “It’s not OK to be ineligible.”

(One of the inelgible players, redshirt freshman wide receiver-turned-safety Adrian Jenkins got jettisoned from the program during the season. At this moment, Jenkins sits in the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center after being arrested and booked in the wee hours on a charge of burglary of an occupied dwelling. His bond is $12,500.) 

Some believe last year’s Cristobal firing and the remaining staff being put on paid leave until they were fired led to players academically crashing the last week of the fall semester and finals week. That, in turn, resulted in the academic ineligibility of several players. Others believe players requiring that level of extremities-holding shouldn’t be in college.

“I don’t want to babysit them,” Turner said. “I’m not going to babysit them. I’m not going to hand walk them to class. They’ know what they’ve got to do.”

(To be clear on where I tend to land on this: My 8-year-old daughter already has seen me hold up a piece of her homework with “I’m not telling you the answer or whether you’re right or wrong. I’ll help you learn how to figure it out. But there’s one name at the top of this sheet. That’s the person who’s responsible for this work.” You might think I’m a curmudgeonly salt-and-pepper no-hair who doesn’t remember what it’s like to be a kid. Ask my mother, who often heard me say during my middle school, high school and college years, “There’s one name on that report card and it isn’t yours.”)

The Cristobal staff knew these young men, especially the South Floridians. They knew the baggage some athletes brought from their neighborhoods. They knew about the rivalries that sometimes seeped onto campus. They worked overtime to keep their players out of trouble. They went for fast, quiet resolution when their players got into trouble.

The Turner staff knew not the lay of this new land.

“And (players) weren’t doing the right things in any areas,” Turner said. “I was getting calls from the dorms once a week, twice a week. Guys being disruptive in the dorm playing their music too loud, too late.”

(Why did I just think of the November 2012 tweet from FIU butterfly queen Marina Ribi slamming the football team for disruptive nightly partying after the season was over?)

“And all these calls were consistent in every area – dorms, class, guys being disruptive in class, if they showed up to class. If they did show up, they were late. And being disruptive in class. I’m not talking about the entire team. I’m talking about a group. But that group was too many.”

Turner said he told the team they would be winners, but they wouldn’t win on the field until they were accountable to one another on and off the field. Also, lateness and no-shows get you fired or buried on the bottom in the real world, which is where the vast majority will earn the rent in a few years.

Finally, he said he told the 70 to 80 percent of the players who acted like they had some sense and were “taking care of their business” as the popular euphemism goes, “either you’re going to bring the other guys up or they’re going to bring you down.

“Obviously, this year, especially early, they brought the other guys down.”

And it didn’t surprise him.

“This may not come out really well,” he said. “Obviously we were all disappointed, but I wasn’t totally surprised. In January and February when we were going through all these problems that we had and they continued, they got better a little bit, but they continued…it was not unexpected what happened on the field this year, in my mind. Part of it is talent. In some areas, we’ve got to get better players. Some areas, we had good enough players. As a football team, we have to get more talent, better players as a group. But it’s not surprising because of the off the field issues.”

I’d say you could throw a few more things into the mix – new systems, young team, tough early schedule including three bowl teams, two of which went 11-1. Anyway…

Turner said a sense of possible doom crashed home in the summer, when he punished some players by taking their football privileges away.

“I can’t tell you the number of guys I had tell me, ‘Coach, we felt we’d always be able to play on Saturday no matter what we did. We might get punished. We might get disciplined, things might happen. When the season came, we’d play on Saturdays,’” Turner said. “That’s kind of a product of them growing up in football. A guy’s a young player, Pop Warner, he’s a great player, the coach looks the other way when he doesn’t show up for practice or does something wrong. High school, the same thing happens. A guy’s not going to class, not taking care of grades, they maybe help him out -- talk to the teachers ‘hey give him a break, he’s my best player…” this and that. And it continues on to college. And those guys expect that to happen. ‘Hey, they’ve always taken care of me.’

 “Once some of these guys were ineligible that they all thought would be eligible – something would happen and they’d be eligible – I think it was starting to sink in.”

It should be said here that the ineligibles included a couple of academic phoenixes. They’d flamed out at FIU before and mysteriously risen from the ashes -- twice.

More than one player has claimed to his parents or confidants that Turner doesn’t care about winning. I’m not sure about that. Maybe Turner felt this year needed to be about a culture change before FIU really could move forward. Any reasonable person saw a roster that would need voodoo just for an outside shot at five wins. Better to sacrifice a win or two to get things in order for a smoother future.

Cristobal took a similar line of thinking in 2012 with a freshman he thought could’ve been better than any of the upperclassmen starters at his position. But, Cristobal reasoned, if he played the freshman after some of the young man’s serious transgressions off the field, the guy was so good that he’d be on his way to being a nightmare: fantastic player, zero character plus a sense of entitlement. Nope, Cristobal thought, better for the young man and the program to let him suffer the consequences of sitting out.

Turner repeated that he felt the team got better on the field as the year wore on but they got worn down, especially defensively. In his office on this day, however, he spoke more of the off-the-field improvements.

“We do (random) class checks. Early, we’d go check a class, we’ve got eight guys in a class, five would be missing,” he said. “In the last month, when I get the reports back, I don’t think we’ve had one guy miss. Does that mean, we have 100 percent attendance? I’m not naïve enough to think that was the case. They’re college kids.”

He says he hasn’t heard from the dorms for a while. After seeing one group of players wallowing in an FIU pig sty, Turner instituted pop-in room checks.

“It’s not military school. But we’re looking for it to not be disgusting.”

As is the custom in the NFL with Tuesdays, Turner started sending players to speak at elementary schools, hospitals, volunteer at nursing home and retirement communities on Mondays. He claimed a doubling of the community service time done previously. All FIU student-athletes are required to do community service.

“Our guys are doing a tremendous job in the community.”

This week, as the semester closes, players file in and out for something of exit meetings on the season. Turner said he didn’t expect large turnover, although I keep hearing there could be a bloc of transfers.

“I’m not going to sit there and guarantee a number of wins (for 2014). If they continue to do what they’re supposed to do and develop, there will be…” Turner hesitated. Then finished, “It’ll start to show up on the field. I believe that strongly.”

Again last week, I heard about FIU’s lack of attendance at some of the major South Florida high school clashes, where the stands teem with coaches from other colleges. I asked Turner about that and about trying to develop relationships with the stronger programs in town.

He said they were. In fact, two coaches were at Northwestern High that day.

“Are we at games on Friday night during the season, this year? No, we are not.”

His reasoning: “Our team was so young, we did not feel comfortable going to the hotel and having our night meetings and not having coaches there. It sends the wrong message, No. 1, about the importance of the game. And, No. 2, our guys weren’t mature enough to handle it and do what they’re supposed to do and get us focused as we needed to be.”

“That doesn’t mean we’re not getting out into the field, we’re not talking to coaches, we’re not going to schools. When we had our byes, we went to schools. We have four coaches that only recruit South Florida, and they are establishing good relationships with those coaches. We’ve had (those coaches) on our campus. I’ve talked to a bunch of them. We are establishing those relationships.”

“What we’ve to be careful of is when you’re 1-11, coaches coming in and saying ‘Take this guy, he’ll help you.’ We’ve got to make sure we’re doing our evaluations to make sure that they’re guys that we can win with at this level. They’ve got guys Miami, Florida, Florida State are recruiting. Our chances of getting those guys is very slim. But there are other guys that for whatever reason they aren’t recruiting that we can find and get. But we’re not going to take guys just to take them.”

Another player waited to enter for his postseason talk. I’m not sure he’ll be here next year. Turner will be. He’s not going anywhere. We’ll see if FIU is.

October 19, 2013

(Not Facebook) Status updates

I forgot to add these to Wednesday's post-football practice blog post.

Safety Demarkus Perkins and defensive tackle Greg Hickman both wore the Home Depot jerseys. Hickman was being held out as a precaution with an ankle. As for Perkins, FIU coach Ron Turner said he'll play when he tells Turner he can go.

"When he comes back, we'll see who's playing better," Turner said. "Eighteen (Jordan Davis) played really well (against UAB). Eighteen had a very good game."

Turner also said as for freshman quarterback Travis Wright, sophomore cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon and junior cornerback Richard Leonard, there was no change in where they were as far as being outside the team. With Wright, there was a question about the validity of his qualifying test. McKinnon and Leonard are serving suspensions for an unstated violation.  

I asked Turner if he anticipated a change in any of the three: "In some cases, we're waiting. In other cases, possibly."

Translation: they're waiting to hear from the NCAA about Wright and he really isn't sure about letting Leonard and McKinnon back into the fold.


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