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October 15, 2006

31 players suspended for Miami-FIU brawl

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CORAL GABLES, Fla. After reviewing a sideline-clearing brawl between players from Miami and Florida International, officials from both schools and their conferences on Sunday announced the suspension of 31 players 13 from the Hurricanes, and 18 from FIU.

Each suspended player must sit out his team's next game for taking part in the ugly melee that marred the team's Saturday matchup. Miami plays at Duke on Saturday, FIU plays at Alabama Oct. 28.

More sanctions are still possible, officials from both schools said Sunday night.

"These suspensions send a clear and definitive message that this type of behavior will not be tolerated," said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford.

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

"I don't have many bad days," Miami coach Larry Coker said Sunday morning, long before the suspensions were announced shortly after 10 p.m. "This is a bad day. And last night was a bad night."

Meanwhile, officials from the Sun Belt Conference and FIU (0-7) suspended Michael Alls, Scott Bryant, Roland Clark, Michael Dominquez, John Ellis, Cory Fleming, Reginald Jones, Marshall McDuffie Jr., Robert Mitchell, Quintin Newman, Luis Pena, Jarvis Penerton, Julian Reams, Lionell Singleton, Chris Smith, Samuel Smith, Mannie Wellington and Chandler Williams.

"There is no place in higher education for the type of conduct exhibited," Sun Belt Conference Commissioner Wright Waters said.

There were many instances of heated words being exchanged during and even before the game.

But shortly after halftime, unsportsmanlike turned into unruly.

Bryant pointed at the FIU bench and bowed to the crowd after catching a touchdown pass with 9 minutes left in the third quarter. Moments later, FIU's Chris Smith wrestled Miami holder Matt Perrelli to the ground and punched him.

McDuffie kicked Perrelli in the helmet. Morse jumped onto the Smith-Perrelli pile, Singleton followed and tried to punch the Hurricanes' Calais Campbell and benches began to empty.

"You've got to back up each other," said Miami quarterback Kyle Wright. "You're not just going to sit out there and let guys get beat up."

Several players from both sides appeared to throw punches. Meriweather was seen attempting to stomp on FIU players, while an injured Golden Panther swung a crutch menacingly at several Miami players.

Meanwhile, Reddick charged across the field, helmet raised over his head, and slammed it into Mitchell.

"Disgraceful," Coker said.

The suspensions come at a terrible time for Miami, which has six ACC games remaining and probably needs five wins to even have a chance at playing for the conference title.

Yes, Miami is playing winless Duke next week, not anyone in the ACC's upper echelon. Still, the Hurricanes will have to play that game without their best kick returner (Johnson), their second-best running back (Jones), two starters in the secondary (Meriweather and Randy Phillips), their right guard (Morse) and their punter (Monroe).

Plus, starting right tackle Jason Fox and linebacker Jon Beason were injured Saturday night and their availability isn't known for the Duke game.

So all of a sudden, what could have been an easy game doesn't look so easy anymore.

And it's only worse for FIU which would have been a big underdog at Alabama anyway, but now will visit the Crimson Tide without nearly half of its regular starting lineup.

"I can promise you," FIU coach Don Strock said, "that this will never happen again."

The fight marred what was supposed to be the beginning of a rivalry between two schools with players who grew up playing each other on high school fields in South Florida. Knowing that, Coker said he expected tensions to be high.

"I was very concerned about this and we addressed it a lot of times throughout the week," Coker said. "As the game started to get away from them, I was very, very concerned that something like this might happen."

It's the third on-field incident involving the Hurricanes in their last seven games. And there's been plenty of off-the-field ones, too.

Several Miami players fought with LSU players following the Tigers' 40-3 win in the Peach Bowl, a brawl that quickly escalated into an out-of-control melee in the tunnel leading from the field.

Shortly before the Miami-Louisville game Sept. 16, virtually the entire Hurricanes' roster jumped on the Cardinals logo at midfield an act widely viewed as a taunting gesture. Afterward, several Miami players chided teammates for their involvement in that incident.

A Miami player was shot outside his home shortly before training camp began in what players contend was a robbery attempt. Meriweather returned fire at the alleged assailants. Police said he acted legally.

Wide receiver Ryan Moore, who was sent home from the Peach Bowl for violating team rules, was suspended for the first two games of 2006 for other violations. He is expected to be charged this week with misdemeanors stemming from an August fight with a woman. He hasn't played this season.

And now, perhaps, comes the worst blow of them all, a melee that was out of hand within seconds of starting.

Despite all that, Coker who has been under fire from alumni and Miami fans throughout the season, and whose job security seems to be a constant source of speculation around Coral Gables bristled at the suggestion that he doesn't have control of his team.

"I do have a grip on this program," Coker said. "Don't ever doubt that. Don't ever doubt that."

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