ACC Commentary: If Williams Plays, College Football Loses

by - Correspondent -

Thoughts from the ACC... The Miami Hurricanes spent the tenures of two head coaches building a reputation as college football's bad boys, and much of the past decade trying to distance themselves from the havoc wrought by their success in doing so. Now, if a Florida judge allows, the 'Canes might be taking a huge step backward in the rep department. Willie Williams, a high profile super recruit from the Hurricanes' back yard, is one step away from being cleared to enroll at the University of Miami. By all accounts, Williams could be the next great Miami linebacker. He has the size. He has the speed. He apparently has unlimited potential. In fact Williams is such a good football player, there's only one facet of his life which surpasses his prowess on the field: His ability to break the law. While there remain questions about unfulfilled potential concerning most 18-year old true freshmen, there's no questioning Williams' criminal ability.

Before late Jan. of this year, Williams had been arrested 10 - count 'em - 10 times since 1999. The most recent of his exploits came in July 2002, when he pleaded no contest to felony burglary charges. Williams was placed on 18 months probation as punishment. Then came Jan. 30. On a recruiting trip to the University of Florida, Williams came away with not only the ins and outs of the Gator football program, but with two more criminal charges and a third incident that the courts dismissed. Within a span of just a few hours, Williams: - Hugged a woman without her permission, resulting in a misdemeanor charge; - Discharged three hotel fire extinguishers, causing significant damage (a felony); - Was involved in a nightclub fight that ultimately saw charges against him dropped. In court June 21, Williams again pleaded no contest to the charges and was placed on concurrent one-year terms of probation. He has already paid about $1,500 toward the hotel damages, and if he stays out of trouble while on probation the felony will be removed from his record. But remember the felony burglary charge from 2002? Williams was in the final two weeks of his probation sentence from that case when he went on his Gainsville binge. He was placed under house arrest for violating his probation, while at the same time awaiting the outcome of the Gainsville charges. Now all that's left is Broward Co. Circuit Court Judge Michael G. Kaplan's ruling on the probation violation. On Wednesday, Kaplan has the option of setting Williams free or sentencing him to five years in prison. But given the fact that while under house arrest - before the Gainsville charges were wrapped up - Kaplan has already allowed Williams to attend his high school graduation and prom, don't expect the young man to be visiting the Iron Bar Motel anytime soon. Kaplan's previous record of dealing with Williams would seem to indicate he (Williams) will be allowed to go free - bound only by the terms of his probation. That would free the University of Miami to allow Williams to enroll in school, clearing his path to Larry Coker's fall camp in early Aug. All of which would be a bigger crime than anything Williams ever masterminded. If Williams is allowed to step foot on the Miami practice field, you can pretty much take all the good work Coker and his predecessor - Butch Davis - did to clean up the Hurricane image sullied by both Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson. It's especially disappointing to see Coker's apparent willingness to welcome Williams, because since taking over the program following Davis' departure to Cleveland he (Coker) had given every impression of a man who had his priorities straight. Apparently though, Coker is like many other coaches - willing to overlook a player's checkered past if said player can help the coach win more games. More wins equal more job security, which is not so evident these days in big-time college football. Don't misunderstand. Young people make mistakes, and there are very few of us walking around today who haven't been granted a second chance of some kind. But when a kid has been arrested 12 times in a five-year period, we've gone well beyond second chances. We've entered an episode of Cops. If Williams is allowed to play for the Hurricanes after all this, what lesson has he learned? What message will be sent? Why even screen prospective players at all? At the University of Georgia, the school's admissions committee has turned down the application for enrollment by stud defensive back Michael Grant because of a single incident which happened three years ago when Grant was a sophomore in high school. Whether the move is political or not - as school president Michael Adams tries to clamp down on the athletic department - remains to be seen. But on the surface it would appear the Bulldog hierarchy is taking a recruit's character into consideration. Since it doesn't appear Miami is capable of doing the same thing, it falls to the lap of Judge Kaplan to do it for them. We can only hope his earlier dealings with Williams were just a matter of wait and see, not a case of a bleeding heart.

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