Miami, FIU rekindling their sports relationships

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — The infamous on-field brawl in 2006 between Miami and FIU’s football teams was over in a couple of minutes. The fallout and often-frosty relationship between the schools has lingered for about a decade.

Times are changing.

For the first time since 2008, Miami and FIU have scheduled baseball games — four games in the upcoming 2017 season, two at the Hurricanes’ stadium and two on the Panthers’ campus about nine miles away. It’s just the latest example of an athletic reconnection between these neighboring universities that want to rekindle relationships in many sports, and are taking steps on that front.

“It’s good for our students,” Miami athletic director Blake James said. “With so much of our travel, we have to get on a plane, we’re missing class, all those different types of things. When we can set up games that make sense for our teams that don’t require our kids to miss class, you take advantage of them when you can.”

The baseball games set at Miami are March 7 and April 26; the ones at FIU are Feb. 22 and March 8. It wasn’t just the brawl that led to a rift between those programs; Miami coach Jim Morris and now-former FIU coach Turtle Thomas haven’t gotten along for years, for reasons neither ever cared to explain publicly.

Miami and FIU baseball played 115 times from 1973 through 2008. They played an NCAA regional game in 2015, but other than that, nothing until now.

“Our early schedule is designed to both challenge our team and get us ready for Conference USA play,” new FIU coach Mervyl Melendez said. “We are excited about our home schedule. Our fans will be able to watch us play very good opponents including the University of Miami for the first time at home since 2008.”

There’s financial and academic benefits to Miami-FIU games. Travel costs are minimal, plus the visiting team can play a “road” game and be back on its own campus in minutes instead of hours. And those with early morning classes may appreciate them not being preceded by a middle-of-the-night long bus ride home from another school.

Miami averaged 376 miles, round-trip, to midweek baseball games at Florida Gulf Coast and Central Florida last season. What would have been a 110-mile round trip to Florida Atlantic was cancelled by bad weather.

A round trip to FIU is only 18 miles.

“I think it’s great,” James said. “As long as it makes sense for our programs, I’ll be supportive of those things. I didn’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be playing.”

Miami’s women’s basketball team — ranked No. 14 in this week’s Top 25 — put FIU back on the schedule last season after seven years of not playing, and will go to the Panthers’ arena for a game on Dec. 16. The schools played in volleyball this season for the first time since 2010, and the football teams are likely to play again in 2019. They’ve also met recently in women’s soccer, swimming and track.

There’s been no Miami-FIU football game since 2007, one year after that brawl led to the suspensions of 31 players.

“I think it should be a great game,” said newly hired FIU football coach Butch Davis, the former Miami coach from 1996 through 2000.

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