Morgan rift costs seniors final game Decision to forfeit ends tense week

November 22, 1992|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Staff Writer

Eddie Hill sat in the bleachers of Hill Field House with hi parents at 2 p.m. yesterday, hiding his disappointment behind sunglasses. A senior at Morgan State University, he wanted to be at Hughes Stadium, enjoying what he's done on Saturday afternoons in the fall since 1989: put on a Bears uniform and play football.

Five hours earlier, about the same time his parents were beginning the drive to Baltimore from their home in Paterson, N.J., Eddie Hill and the other members of the Morgan State team were shocked by the announcement that they would not play the final game of the season.

Fearing that violence would follow a sit-in that football players threatened but eventually abandoned, the Morgan State administration decided to forfeit the final game of the season to Bethune-Cookman yesterday.

"We're forfeiting the game for safety reasons," said Joe McIver, the university's acting athletic director. "We're concerned about the safety of our students, our student athletes, and our fans. We've had incidents on campus in the past in which people have taken advantage of situations like this. Campus police are inadequate to handle the situation."

The forfeit ended a week of tension and confusion within the Morgan State athletic department. Upset by the manner in which head coach Ricky Diggs treated them, and by an apparent rift between Mr. Diggs and assistant coach L.C. Cole, players drew up a petition with three demands. But yesterday even the players were disagreeing over their goals.

Mr. Diggs, who has refused to comment on Morgan State's problems since Thursday, had left his Hill Field House office by 12:30 p.m., an hour before the game's scheduled start. Mr. Cole and other assistant coaches also refused to comment.

A petition signed by 69 players was delivered to the Morgan State administration on Wednesday. It called for: Mr. Diggs to be relieved of his duties after yesterday's game; the elevation of Mr. Cole to head coach; and the reinstatement of Elizabeth Stearns as the academic adviser for football.

Ms. Stearns, the athletic department's academic coordinator, filed a complaint of verbal harassment against Mr. Diggs with the university on Nov. 10.

Among their grievances, the players said "we are afraid to talk to him [Mr. Diggs] for fear of being humiliated and embarrassed."

The demands in the players' petition included a meeting with university President Earl S. Richardson and other administrators. More than 50 players met with Dr. Richardson on Friday for 15 minutes, and neither Dr. Richardson nor the players would comment afterward.

The players gathered again after that meeting, and agreed then to cancel a sit-in they had planned for halftime of yesterday's game.

When asked if the administration was aware of the players' decision to abandon the sit-in, Marc Roberts, a senior linebacker from Milford Mill High School, said school officials "didn't ask."

Mr. McIver said the administration, mindful of an on-field fight that included players and fans after Morgan State's victory over Johnson C. Smith on Sept. 26, decided yesterday morning to forfeit to Bethune-Cookman.

Players and assistant coaches were informed of the decision by Mr. Diggs and other administrators at the end of their pre-game meal. It was to be the final game for Mr. Hill and five other seniors. Seniors and underclassmen alike were angered that the opportunity to play was taken away.

"I wanted to cry," said Andre Harris, a sophomore from Lanham who plays on the offensive line. "The six seniors we had, we wanted them to win. They're taking that opportunity away from all of us."

Several parents met with Mr. McIver to express their dissatisfaction with the decision not to play.

"I'm very angry," Rachel Hill said. "This is my son's last year here, and I can't see him on the field one last time. Remember, we're just one family; other families came here, too."

It's custom for Morgan State seniors to jog a lap around the field after their final game at Hughes Stadium.

"That final jog, that's what I wanted to see," Eddie Hill Sr. said. "I would have been very proud to see that."

Morgan State had lost its last six games and had a 2-8 record, but the players said they felt they had a chance to beat Bethune-Cookman, which improved to 3-7 with the forfeit victory.

Bethune-Cookman is in Daytona Beach, Fla., and a traveling party of 90 arrived at Baltimore-Washington International Airport on Friday morning.

Instead of playing yesterday, the Bethune-Cookman players ,X went to Washington to attend a game between Howard University and Delaware State College. They also visited the statue of college founder Mary McLeod-Bethune and planned to attend the movie "Malcolm X" last night, coach Sylvester Collins said.

Mr. McIver said Morgan State would not be liable for any of Bethune-Cookman's expenses.

Lynn W. Thompson, the Bethune-Cookman athletic director, said: "While we came here totally prepared to play, we realize the problems at Morgan State are greater than those of intercollegiate athletics. We offer our support and prayers to Morgan State during their time of crisis."

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