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A hard-fought victory in the Leavitt saga for USF

When you have graduated from a university some people persist in calling a "commuter school," usually in a tone somewhere between amused tolerance and mild derision, alma mater-related victories can be hard fought.

You can have a fine medical school and growing research dollars and a renowned cancer center on campus. But in some quarters, if you do not have football, you are a lesser institution.

Then one day your school gets football, and this is a fine thing, even if it will be many moons before your team is mentioned in the same breath as the Gators and Noles you have been hearing about since birth. You think: Maybe those Gators and Noles will be slightly less smug now that you too have a fight song and a reason to put on a foam finger and scream your heart out in a stadium on a Saturday.

Of course, with this comes inevitable dips: a player whose wife says she wrote his school papers for him, fans who behave as if they have had decades to hone skills like yelling profanity at out-of-towners or pregame throwing up. Years pass, and your young team loses and, hey, wins, and under the hand of its passionate character of a coach gains some measure of national status. You learn to form bull horns atop your fist in your own "go-team" gesture, neither a Gator nor a Nole, and this is fine, too.

But now, major scandal: The fiery coach who pushed your team has fallen, accused of popping a kid named Joel Miller. "It's absolutely not true," says coach Jim Leavitt, the sort of man who enthusiastically head-butted a helmeted player and bloodied his own nose. "It's so wrong. It's so far out there," he says, and you can't disagree with that last part, at least.

Turns out allegations of this sort are tradition, too, dating back decades to Ohio State's Woody Hayes, famously fired for punching an opposing player (at least not one of his own) and as recently as last year's scandals involving coaches from Texas Tech (accused of sending a player with a concussion to stand in a dark, confined place) and Kansas (accused of mistreating players).

So much to learn about college football!

So your coach is fired and naturally everyone promptly lawyers up, another of our traditions. Your (ex-)coach vows to fight for his job (or if he can't save that, you think, at least to fight for the biggest chunk of salary he can salvage from this sad scenario). At this point, it can only get uglier. Your team has hit the big time, and not in a good way.

Still, you can be proud of your commuter school, all those beige buildings sprawled across all those flat acres on the edge of Tampa.

Because when the story broke, people there — notably your president, Judy Genshaft — acted swiftly and decisively. They did the investigation and in the end seemed to give your coach a chance to save himself with an admission, a reason, an apology.

But coach did not accept defeat gracefully (sports analogies — a new tradition), not that you would expect this man to. Things promise to be messy for a while, though already, sports fans are debating a new coach.

Was it a proud moment worthy of Gators and Noles? Not exactly, but it was a moment without pandering or wimping out or playing loose with the rules, a moment that said football is not worth everything after all. Small time, maybe, legacy-wise, but we'll take it.

A hard-fought victory in the Leavitt saga for USF 01/12/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 12, 2010 8:42pm]

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