In case you missed it, a frustrated Hurricanes fan holding a poster board with a 'Fire Al Golden' message made his way into the view of ESPN cameras Monday afternoon in Dallas, site of this year's national championship game.
Screen shots of the 'Fire Al Golden' poster -- when it was visible on TV during afternoon shows like The Herd with Colin Cowherd (you can spot it just over Tim Tebow's right shoulder in the photo here) -- made its way around social media rather quickly before the game.
Some UM students like Willy Herrera, a 22-year old senior studying accounting and finance in Coral Gables, are saying they wish they could express themselves in a similar way on campus, but claim they aren't being allowed to. Twice last week during men's basketball games (against Virginia first and then Boston College), Herrera said he and friends had 'Fire Al Golden' and 'Bring Back Butch' signs snatched away from them by UM staffers Jesse Marks (Associate Athletic Director for Development) and Alfonso Restrepo (Assistant director of Development).
I reached out to Herrera after the Virginia game (after a prominent former UM player reached out to me privately to let me know what happened to Willy and others) to get the details. Then I asked athletic director Blake James last Thursday (shortly after the press conference to announce UM's new deal with Adidas) if he thought the school was impeding on freedom of speech rights of Hurricanes fans and students displeased with Golden.
"It's a policy at the stadium that there aren't any signs [allowed in]," James responded. "So it wasn't that it was 'Bring Back Butch' or 'Fire Al' or anything like that. The policy at the BankUnited Center is that there isn't any signs allowed in. And that's for a variety of reasons.
"Obviously if you're sitting behind someone and they're holding up a sign the whole game you can't see the game. And so the environment we create is to allow the fans to enjoy the game. Like most facilities, rarely do you allow things that are going to hamper the experience of others around them."
During Donna Shalala's tenure the school has conveyed to students through various messages the administration supports their rights to freedom of speech and other civil liberties. James was adamant last Thursday the actions taken by UM staffers wasn't censorship.
"Obviously we want to recognize the freedom to express your opinions and it wasn't something that was done on that front," he said. "It's our policy that signs aren't allowed in that facility. Again, I'm not sure how they got by the security. If they had it hidden or how it was done. But, that is something that is a policy there at that facility."
James said UM doesn't make the policy at Sun Life Stadium, but the rules at the BUC are the same as the ones for Canes baseball games on campus.
"I'm pretty sure they don't allow signs or umbrellas in Sun Life Stadium," James said. "Again, most stadiums aren't going to allow you to bring things in that are going to hamper the viewing enjoyment of others around you."
Obviously there are quite a few others who enjoy the Fire Al Golden posters like Herrera, who grew up a Canes fan and graduated from Miami Columbus High before coming to UM.
"It's not the act of [my poster board] being taken away," Herrera said of why he's upset. "We're not allowed to say anything, and at the end of the day it is a school and it's for the student first. We also pay our athletic fee every year. A lot of us could argue what we pay for isn't what we expected when we decided to go and pay our athletic fee. A lot of these people who make these big decisions are in politics and are used to listening to constituents. It's just frustrating that we're trying every way of being heard and no one listens to us. Athletics is a big part of student life, a huge part of athletic experiences. Why can't we express ourselves?"
MORE QUESTIONS FOR BLAKE JAMES
I spoke to James for 10 minutes one-on-one about a variety of other issues last Thursday. Here is a short Q&A of the topics covered:
Q: It feels like there's been overwhelming constant negativity from fans regarding Al Golden being the football coach. What's your message to the fan when there is a level of vitriol we haven't seen before?
"We all want the same thing. We all want to see the program win and I'm confident -- and you spoke to Al -- Al wants to win. I know there's some out there that question if he's the right one out there to do it and if he can do it, and I still feel that he is the guy that can get it done. The only thing I would say is 'Hey that's what we all want.' We all want to see this program winning ACC championships because if you're doing that you're going to have a chance to win the national championship.' And we all know that's the end goal. Let's get an ACC championship and then let's have an opportunity at the national championship. So, it's really just to try to give -- as with any one of our programs -- give them the support they need and give them the resources to be successful.
"That's part of this [Adidas] deal. It's going to give me greater ability to give them resources they need to be successful. Whether it's the facilities we've done over the last couple years -- the student athlete training table, practice fields. We're going to put lights up out here within the next few months. It's putting all those things in place to allow us to have success. I understand people are unhappy about us being 6-7. But Al's not happy about being 6-7. I'm not happy about being 6-7. I think we just have different views on how do we get back to the top. And mine let's support and invest. Obviously others have different thoughts."
Q: Have you spoken to Al about changing his assistant coaches?
"Al and I talked about those sorts of things. But that's something I trust him to make the judgement on. We brought that conversation up and that's something that he constantly has to do. He has to do that every year. Obviously in a year that you're 6-7 it becomes a much more targeted area I think. As is the head coaching position when you go 6-7. I recognize that's what people are going to want to talk about right now. It goes into his evaluation every year. Whether you're winning a national championship or going 6-7 there's things you're going to need to change for next year. Because if you sit in the same spot everybody is going to pass you by. So it's Al's job to constantly evaluate his program and make sure we're doing the things we need to do to progress. Because you always need to make progress regardless of what you're record is. So those are things that I leave to him. But my challenge to him was evaluate everything and make the changes you need to make and then tell me what you need on resources so I can get us to where we need to be. We need to be winning the Coastal. We need to be going to the ACC championship, and again we need to be back on the national stage. And we're on the same page with that. And that's my commitment to him to get him back to that spot."
Q: I've had a couple Golden Canes boosters reach out to me and they've said the you and administration have told them there will be changes after Signing Day. What's been your message to them? What have you tried to convey to them?
"My message is the same to everyone whether it's a Golden Cane or anyone else is. I want to give them their resources. Any one of our programs. Obviously, football is the one that's the big one and football is the one that's been talked about the most. For me, it's just continuing push them to evaluate, push them to make sure I'm giving them the resources they need, and then continuing to look at our facilities and our infrastructure to see what we can do better. We need to get lights on our practice field. We need an indoor practice facility and I'm excited about what the Dolphins are doing with Dolphins Stadium. I think that will enhance some things too and should help create a better gameday environment for us."
Q: What can you tell us about the new gameday experience for Canes fans might be like with all the changes being done at Sun Life?
"The Dolphins are going to have a press conference on that. I'd rather just comment after that press conference just not to say anything."
Q: But it's going to be a better experience?
"Yeah. I would say with everything they've shared with me I'm confident our fans will feel it's a much better game day experience."
Q: Where are you in terms of season tickets sold for 2015?
"We still haven't even started because we're still waiting for the Dolphins to finalize everything. Once they finalize everything then we'll send out our renewal notices. We haven't sent out our renewal notices, which is again off schedule for us. Normally we would have already sent those out. Given this construction project it looks like it's probably going to be February when we send stuff out that normally would have been out by now."
Q: In terms of an indoor practice facility at UM how close is that to becoming a reality?
"We're working on it. It's hard for me to say how close we are. We're working on identifying the right spot for it. I think once we find the right spot the institution and our supporters, are in-line and recognize the need for it that we're going to be able to make it a reality. Right now, it's finding the right spot. Then it will be lining up the funding for it. But I'm confident we're going to make that happen."
Q: Marlins Park hosted its first bowl game. Any chance you might play a game there at some point? Maybe against FIU?
"I think it would be hard. We signed a deal with FIU and [athletic director] Pete [Garcia] had mentioned maybe we could look at doing something like that. Sun Life Stadium is our home filed and to go play somewhere else in our own market -- if it's not on a permanent basis -- I don't think it would make sense for us. But I'll continue to monitor what they're doing at Marlins Park. And if there's something we ever felt would be a fit for us we'd investigate the possibilities."