UM must rebuild its image after football brawl, experts say
By Eric Kalis
The University of Miami is mired in a damaged public perception after Saturday night's wild brawl between UM and Florida International University football players. So how does the university and the city whose name it bears begin to fix the damage?
For starters, e-mailed apologies from UM officials are insufficient because UM players must apologize to repair the school’s reputation, said Seth Gordon, managing partner of Miami public-relations firm Gordon Reyes & Company.
Contrite statements issued by both schools do little to heal the scars the fight left on UM's image, Mr. Gordon said. To change public perception, players who were involved in the fracas must publicly show remorse, Mr. Gordon said.
"Any kind of group behavior like this makes everyone involved look goofy," Mr. Gordon said. "The key is to put a human face on it by having the players talk to people directly [and apologize]. Otherwise, the public will not empathize with the players as people."
While individual apologies are appropriate external steps, image repair must start internally, said Israel Kreps, a UM alumnus who has practiced public relations in Miami since 1988. Both schools should bring their football players together to settle differences, said Mr. Kreps of Kreps/DeMaria.
"Be men about it & get together," Mr. Kreps said. "There should be some dialogue."
Administrators from both schools are deciding whether to let the teams play next year. Mr. Kreps said a game would be vital to changing the public's view.
"The image does not get resolved until they play a good, clean game next year," he said.
Sports pundits say the university's image as a staple of the community has deteriorated after the team's third physical altercation with an opponent in the past 10 months.
The melee was shown repeatedly on televisions across the country and resulted in punishments for 31 student-athletes from both teams. Former UM football coach Fran Curci told the Los Angeles Times that the brawl "was a black eye for college football."
As for tangible ramifications the incident will have on UM, an individual prospective student probably will not be swayed, said Guy Trusty, president of Lodging and Hospitality Realty in Coral Gables. But the fight's impact might be seen on a wider level in terms of the university's perception, he said.
"I would relate it to the housing market and rising interest rates," Mr. Trusty said. "If there is a half-point rise in the interest rate, most individuals would view that as something they could afford. But on the macro level, every half-point equates to 100,000 to 200,000 people no longer being able to afford a home."
Despite the insistence of some UM players that the brawl was started by FIU players and UM coach Larry Coker's initial assessment that it could have a positive effect on the school, the Hurricanes have been skewered by local and national media.
FIU has not received the same battering because the program has not had national exposure and doesn’t have a history of misbehavior.
Detroit Free Press columnist Michael Rosenberg said the UM football program continues to tarnish the school and makes it easier to overlook the academic strides it has made. "Miami is not some college-credit supermarket that needs big-time football to justify its existence," Mr. Rosenberg wrote in a column Tuesday. "According to Business Week, the average SAT score for a Miami freshman is 1258. The students and faculty at Miami deserve better."
Sports-talk host Hank Goldberg of WQAM said on his show Monday that national media is unfairly overreacting to an isolated incident.
"Frankly, I'm a little ticked off by the reaction of the national press to this," Mr. Goldberg said. "To suggest that the University of Miami is filled with thugs is stupid."