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COLLEGE FOOTBALL / GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI : No One Ever Fought This Hard for a National Title

Well, it was another banner week for college football.

Let’s see: A total of 21 players were ejected from four games marred by brawls. . . . Two assistant coaches of top-25 programs wrestled in an end zone, much to the delight of a nearby television crew, which recorded every delirious moment. . . . An athletic director bolted from his private box to an opposing team’s sideline and proceeded to berate the referees. . . . Another athletic director pretended his school’s football program didn’t have an image problem--despite a fifth fight in six seasons. . . . The sports information director of a top-25 team accused a rival school of spin doctoring. . . . The head coach of the nation’s most celebrated football team went another week without responding to charges of misconduct in a recently published book. . . . The head coach of a Midwest powerhouse inserted an injured running back into a game for one play so the player could remain eligible for statistical consideration and thus, visible to Heisman Trophy voters. . . . A movie that dramatized almost every seamy aspect of the college game made its national premiere. . . . And the NCAA announced it had begun an official investigation into alleged rules violations at Alabama, the defending national champion.

So, hey, how ‘bout that Fresno State?

Once again, college football’s fragile sis-boom-bah status took another hit to the solar plexus. As usual, it had it coming.

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The fights have received the most attention and deservedly so. Had there been any more footage of helmet-wielding, head-stomping, facemask-grabbing players--or, “the kids,” as the coaches benevolently say--Ken Burns would have had enough for another documentary.

Brawls broke out at games involving Miami and Colorado, North Carolina and North Carolina State, Maryland and Virginia Tech, and Duke and Virginia. And that’s only the Division I-A rap sheet. At a postgame melee between Harbor College and Pierce College teams, an injured player used his crutches to drop an opposing assistant coach.

Colorado Coach Bill McCartney said he was “disgusted” by the Miami- Colorado incident.

Miami Coach Dennis Erickson said the whole thing was “a crime.”

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Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer said he needs to view the entire video of his players’ actions before deciding whether to call Maryland Coach Mark Duffner and offer an apology. In the meantime, Beamer said the referees should have thrown a penalty flag to diffuse the situation. “But I’m not blaming it on the officials,” he said.

Gene Corrigan, the Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner, ordered the league’s nine coaches to the phone Monday and read them the riot act. Perhaps the no-nonsense Corrigan was tired of people calling the ACC offices and asking the receptionist if Don King were available, or if the building also housed the World Wrestling Federation.

North Carolina Coach Mack Brown said assistant Donnie Thompson “has always been an excellent role model for young people.” Then he suspended Thompson for one game, the result of Thompson’s assault on North Carolina State offensive coordinator Ted Cain in the end zone last Saturday.

N.C. State Coach Mike O’Cain suspended Cain for a game, but then said that the penalty wasn’t necessarily an admission of guilt.

And so it has gone as administrators and coaches apply another bag of ice to a pair of shiners as black as a starless night.

BRAWLS: PART II

The question isn’t so much, “How did they happen?” but “How do you prevent them from happening again?”

In the Miami-Colorado game, the countdown to fisticuffs began during pregame warm-ups. Near midfield, as the teams made their way to assorted drills, a stare-down took place, followed by a discreet push here and there. And earlier, as members of the Colorado crowd apparently taunted a Miami ballboy during kicking warm-ups, the Hurricane helper grabbed his crotch and pointed to the fans.

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Cornell-Dartmouth, it wasn’t.

Erickson would like America to believe that the media was partly to blame for the incident. There was, he said, “an atmosphere of hate and dislike.”

True, the Denver newspapers went overboard in their depictions of the Hurricanes as thugs on scholarships. The Denver sports sections go overboard on nearly every big event, but there has never been a brawl because of it.

McCartney said of Erickson’s media conspiracy theory: “I don’t subscribe to that. That could be true with the spectators. As far as our players were concerned, we really respect (Miami).”

When Colorado and Miami players streamed off the bench and began smacking each other late in the first half of last Saturday’s game, they didn’t do so in protest of the press. They did so to prove a point--that neither team could be intimidated. They did so to protect their teammates, to protect, as Miami defensive end Kevin Patrick put it, “members of our family.”

The same sort of thing happened at Virginia, at North Carolina State and at Virginia Tech. All for one, one for all, and here’s a kick to the groin to prove it.

Fair enough. But now it’s time for college football to protect itself.

While it’s nice that Erickson and Miami Athletic Director Paul Dee have now instituted a new six-point plan/policy concerning fights, and admirable that Corrigan has discussed possible sanctions to future brawlers, and appropriate that Thompson and Cain are gone for a week, something more definitive is needed. After all, these sort of skirmishes aren’t exactly new to the game.

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The NCAA Football Rules Committee has had its chances to legislate penalties for fighting. Instead, it passed and concentrated on such pressing issues as post-touchdown celebrations. Now it has to wait until its next meeting in January before changes can be introduced.

“They put some rules on crazy things,” Temple Coach Ron Dickerson said. “They need to put rules on major things. (The brawls are) more of an embarrassment to college football to me than a kid doing a dance in the end zone. They immediately put the rules on those, but they need stricter rules on fighting.”

Added Kansas Coach Glen Mason, whose team was involved in an altercation with Miami in 1990: “I think we need to take whatever measure possible to get this thing under control. You’re talking about big, physical guys out there and they’re whaling on each other. They’ve got equipment on and the other guys don’t.”

BRAWLS: PART III

Right now, there’s talk of an automatic one-game suspension for any player who fights or leaves the bench to participate in a fight. It isn’t enough. A rule with a bite: First offense--two games. Second offense--you’re gone for the season.

“I don’t think it’s time to start pushing a panic button,” said Pittsburgh Coach Johnny Majors, a past president of the American Football Coaches Assn. and no fan of additional NCAA intervention.

It’s time to push something, mainly a sense of sportsmanship. The old way isn’t working because the old days are gone. Last Saturday’s fight card proved that.

THE STANFORD BRAG

Notre Dame, which blew a 16-0 lead to Stanford last season and eventually lost, 33-16, travels to Palo Alto on Saturday.

Remember Stanford free safety John Lynch, who had nine tackles, forced a fumble and intercepted a pass in the Cardinal victory? Remember Notre Dame linebacker Demetrius DuBose, who led everyone with 12 tackles that game? Lynch and DuBose now play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They’re roommates.

“I’ve been known to throw that film in there when I need a confidence boost now and then,” Lynch said.

No word if DuBose sticks around for the viewings, but Lynch did say there’s more at stake than pride when Notre Dame and Stanford meet this time.

“This week’s a big week for our apartment,” Lynch said. “Even though (Stanford) has been struggling, I’ve got a feeling we’ll give them a game.”

So confident is Lynch of the underdog Cardinal, that a high-stakes wager is imminent with DuBose.

“Maybe dishes for the week,” Lynch said. “We never clean anyway.”

THE REST

Our quarterly Heisman ballot would read: 1) quarterback Charlie Ward, Florida State; 2) linebacker Derrick Brooks, Florida State; 3) running back Tyrone Wheatley, Michigan; 4) quarterback Heath Shuler, Tennessee; 5) wide receiver Johnnie Morton, USC. . . . Unless Louisville Coach Howard Schnellenberger asphyxiates his team with pipe smoke during a pregame meeting, the Cardinals will improve to 5-0 against Pittsburgh on Saturday. Louisville is off to its best start in 21 years. Meanwhile, Majors’ Pitt team avoided a loss last weekend, but only because the Panthers were off. Asked to describe the strength of his team, Majors said: “I don’t think we have any strengths.” Asked to assess Louisville’s team, he said: “I’ve had enough to do to find 11 players to put on pads without too much tape and bailing wire.” So much for the scouting report.

John Paquette, assistant commissioner of the Big East Conference, conducts the weekly league press teleconference with league coaches. When it came time to introduce Temple’s Dickerson, a 66-14 loser to Boston College, Paquette said, “Coach, if you can reflect briefly--and I’m sure you want it to be brief--on the Boston College game.” . . . Injured Nebraska I-back Calvin Jones made a one-play appearance during the Cornhuskers’ victory against Colorado State last Saturday. To be eligible for NCAA stats and individual rushing titles, a player has to appear in 75% of a team’s games. If Jones, who has missed two previous games, returns for the rest of the Nebraska schedule, he’ll be included on the NCAA listings.

Top 10

As selected by Times staff writer Gene Wojciechowski

No. Team Record 1. Florida State 4-0 2. Alabama 4-0 3. Miami 3-0 4. Ohio State 3-0 5. Notre Dame 4-0 6. Penn State 4-0 7. Florida 3-0 8. Nebraska 4-0 9. Oklahoma 3-0 10. Michigan 2-1

Waiting list: North Carolina (4-1), Arizona (4-0), Tennessee (3-1), Texas A&M; (2-1), Louisville (4-0).


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