Forfeit at Morgan

November 27, 1992

In giving coach Ricky Diggs control of the Morgan State University football team -- along with a written reprimand for his harsh treatment of players -- university officials reacted firmly in the face of unreasonable demands. They also reacted a week too late.

It was nine days ago that 69 players delivered a petition calling for the dismissal of Mr. Diggs, stipulating Mr. Diggs' replacement be an assistant coach and demanding the reinstatement of academic coordinator Elizabeth Stearns as the team's academic adviser. Then some of the team members threatened a "sit-in" -- it was really a "sit-out" -- at halftime of Morgan's final 1992 game Saturday against Bethune-Cookman, which came to Baltimore from Florida for the contest. Morgan officials, fearing disturbances, abruptly forfeited the game.

This dispute started out as an internal matter and could have remained there had Morgan officials acted quickly. Once some of the players ran to the media with their grievances, Morgan still had the opportunity to demonstrate wise crisis management and score some public relations points.

The players' demands could not possibly have been satisfied -- at least in the short run -- without denying Mr. Diggs' contractual rights and appearing to cave in completely to hot-headed college-age students. Cooler heads on the team must have known this; indeed, some of the players who signed the petition said later that they really didn't want to see Mr. Diggs sacked.

Now Morgan concedes that there are "irreconcilable" differences within the coaching and supportive staff that will be addressed through "assignment or through termination." And there remains the matter of verbal harassment charges filed against Mr. Diggs by Ms. Stearns.

A forfeit score is 2-0. But this was football. In the game of crisis management, Morgan got shut out Saturday by a wider margin. Now that Morgan officials are acting, perhaps they can achieve a satisfactory, long-range victory.

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