Memo to Leo Miles, athletic director at Howard University.
Re: Athletes boycotting athletic banquet.
If it ain't one thing, it's another.
During the football season, I sent you a memo about the two football players who said Howard wouldn't give them anything to eat.
Now, Leo, you have this big snazzy athletic banquet with all that food and what happens?
Nobody come to eat.
Can't please 'em, can you, Leo?
The varsity athletes who didn't show up Tuesday night -- about 100 of them -- said they were boycotting the banquet because the athletic department was incompetent. The athletes issued a list of demands. Some things sounded silly: "No. 15. The tae kwan do team must be invited to all future Howard University athletic banquets." In order, one presumes, that the tae kwan do guys can boycott, too.
The first item on the list is serious stuff, demanding separation of the athletic department from the office of student affairs. The intent is to get athletics out from under the thumb of Dr. Carl Anderson, vice president for student affairs.
Carl is your buddy, Leo, an old fraternity brother. You wouldn't want to see his influence in your world diminished.
No. 2 on the list of demands is nothing to laugh at, either. "Leo Miles, chairman of the athletic department, is incompetent and must be removed immediately."
Not that you need to worry.
You've heard this talk before.
Lots of times.
Like the time the NCAA took away Howard's 1971 national championship in soccer. The NCAA didn't like it, Leo, when your eligibility list included aliens who were ineligible for NCAA competition.
You heard such talk in 1976, too. That was the time the wrestling coach said the athletic department took scholarships away from kids without due process. He also said grades had been changed and credit given for courses not taken.
The NCAA looked into that one. They didn't find enough evidence to do anything about wrestling. But two years later, with evidence gathered in that investigation, they nailed the football team for eight violations of recruiting rules. So the football team had to go on a year's probation.
The NCAA did a remarkable thing that year, Leo. It told the newspapers that Howard's penalty would have been less severe except that Howard did not cooperate in the investigation, as NCAA members agree to do.
By then the soccer team had won another national championship, this one in 1974. And when the football team went on probation, it joined your famous soccer team, which has been punished by the NCAA -- again -- for using ineligible players. Your eligibility list, Leo, had one player down as a freshman when in fact he was a transfer student.
Let's see. So far we've heard the wrestling coach scream bloody murder, the football team has been on probation, the soccer team has been stripped of a national championship and later put on probation. The tae kwan do team hadn't been formed yet.
The wrestling coach was fired.
The football coach was fired.
The soccer coach probably will be gone by July.
It's nice to be the boss, isn't it, Leo? Especially when your immediate boss is your old frat brother. And even more so when the school president, who hires and fires everybody, apparently doesn't care what happens to the proud name of Howard University.
No, James Cheek doesn't care, and that's good for you, Leo. We know he doesn't care because every time something silly happens and the newspapers wonder what the school president thinks of it, Dr. Cheek goes into hiding. He didn't always hide. Back in 1974, the president said, "We have some selling points now that allow us to compete. We want to be No. 1 in the university division. We want to attract the top athletes. I don't care if they are black or white . . . One day ABC or whoever carries college football will be carrying Howard."
Since then, Leo, you have fired one football coach and had to watch in embarrassment at Dr. Cheek appointed a Special Task Force -- his capitalization, not mine -- to investigate complaints of physical abuse by the new coaching staff. The new coaches were the ones accused of not feeding the players.
The task force confirmed there were "two separate incidents of physical and verbal conduct by two different coaches." The task force said the football (and basketball) players didn't get enough to eat. It said the academic help given athletes is inadequate. It even said the university ought to hire a trainer.
Other than that, everything's hunky-dory. Yes, sir, except for eating and studying and getting help immediately if they should break their necks, the Howard University football players are well taken care of.
We know everything's hunky-dory because Howard is a proud place and Dr. Cheek must like everything the way it's going. If he didn't like it, he might wonder why a wrestling coach and a basketball coach and a football coach have been fired in the last five years, and why a soccer coach who has produced two national championship teams now is standing tall along-side the athletes who boycotted the banquet the other night.
"Any time anybody puts up any kind of opposition to the athletic department, he gets fired," said Lincoln Phillips, the soccer coach for 11 seasons.
This isn't news to you, Leo, but here's the way Phillips feels about the management of the athletic department: "It is gross imcompetence . . . So many things have happened for so long now. We have had successful teams at Howard in several sports, but always in spite of the administration incompetence. I have taken this thing for 10 years now, and I cannot take it any longer."
Maybe, Leo, you remember one of the things Phillips remembers. Phillips says that in 1976 his soccer team played in the second round of the NCAA tournament at Clemson, S.C. He says you wouldn't let the team go down there the night before the game, even though Clemson had offered accommodations. The coach says he had to get his players out of bed at 5 a.m. to make two airplane flights and a 45-minute bus ride for a 1 p.m. game.
"Many of my players had no breakfast, because all that is open at 5 a.m. is a very dingy restaurant, and they had no lunch because we had to hurry on the bus," Phillips said. "And then when we got to the locker room at Clemson, they went to sleep on the floor, they were so tired and hungry."
Clemson beat Howard that day, 3-1.
Come the end of June, Phillips' contract expires and will not be renewed.
Anderson and Cheek will understand, Leo, why you had to get rid of a coach whose teams have won 116 games and lost only 20 in 11 seasons, whose teams have won two NCAA championships, whose teams have symbolized the excellence Howard strives for.
You gotta get rid of any coach whose players fall asleep before an NCAA game.