Brawl participants face stiffer penalties than before

By Tim Reynolds The Associated Press

MIAMI – Amid the pushing, punching and posturing during the sideline-clearing brawl between Miami and Florida International, some actions were deemed worse than others. The punishments reflected the differences in severity.

FIU kicked two players, Chris Smith and Marshall McDuffie Jr., off the team for attacks against Miami holder Matt Perrelli. Hurricanes safety Anthony Reddick, who swung his helmet as a weapon, saw his one-game suspension become an indefinite one Monday.

Those moves were among the many made by the two universities, both of whom promised that they would do whatever possible to ensure something like Saturday night’s fight between the teams never happens again.

“For us,” FIU athletic director Pete Garcia said, “one incident is one incident too many.”

The universities found that:

-Reddick ran across the field in the opening seconds of the fight, helmet raised high before he struck at least one FIU player. That merited “additional measures,” Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford said.

-Chris Smith wrestled Perrelli down as the melee began and appeared to punch him in the chin.

-As Smith held Perrelli on the ground, McDuffie ran up and kicked the Miami player in the head.

There were many other violent acts committed during the fight, yet those were the ones that the schools apparently deemed the most grievous.

“What was envisioned as an opportunity for two hometown teams to provide an evening of athletic competition resulted in a brawl that brought embarrassment to the teams, our universities, and our community,” Miami president Donna Shalala wrote Monday in a letter posted on the school’s Web site.

Shalala will meet with FIU president Mitch Maidique tomorrow to determine if next season’s game between the teams will be played. An announcement will be made by the weekend, Shalala said.

Somehow, neither team had any players injured during the melee.

Miami ordered each of its other 12 players suspended along with Reddick to serve community service, plus said it “re-emphasized” the importance of sportsmanship to coach Larry Coker and members of his staff.

“The coaches will be held accountable for any violation of this principle,” athletic director Paul Dee said.

The brawl was the third on-field incident in Miami’s past seven games; the Hurricanes also fought with LSU after losing last season’s Peach Bowl and trampled Louisville’s midfield Cardinals logo before playing there last month, an act widely viewed as taunting.

Coker was not available for comment. He was to hold his regular weekly news conference Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Miami’s Brandon Meriweather – who was seen stomping on FIU opponents during the fight and was suspended for one game – released a letter of apology yesterday.

“I did not use my better judgment and instead of helping the situation, I participated in the fight, much to my regret,” Meriweather wrote. “As a team captain, I have come to expect more from myself.”

The NCAA, in a statement released Monday, called the fight “wholly unacceptable” and said it hoped the added sanctions taken by Miami and FIU shows “that such behavior is not tolerated.”

While Miami’s response was strong, FIU’s was even stronger.

Besides ordering the two dismissals – those players will remain on scholarship – FIU increased the suspensions for another 16 players involved in the melee. Originally ordered to serve one-game suspensions by the Sun Belt Conference, each of those players are now out indefinitely.

Plus, all the suspended FIU players will have to complete 10 hours of anger management counseling and 50 hours of community service, besides be on probation for the remainder of the academic year. Further, all FIU players – suspended or not – and coaches will need to complete community service projects.

“This is something that’s not going to be tolerated,” Garcia said. “We’ve got to use this as an example to the young kids in South Florida and all over. They need to know that yes, football is very competitive. Our society is very competitive. But we’ve got to make sure that we teach the youth in South Florida what’s acceptable behavior and what’s not.”

The ACC and Miami (4-2) suspended Reddick, Carlos Armour, Chris Barney, James Bryant, Tyrone Byrd, DajLeon Farr, Ryan Hill, Bruce Johnson, Charlie Jones, Meriweather, Brian Monroe, Derrick Morse and Randy Phillips.