By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Bernard Wright, hired at FIU in 1998, had been an assistant coach under Rodriguez at Miami High, and was still an assistant when the program was busted. That same year he left his full-time job as a caseworker at the Department of Children & Families, where his competency was publicly questioned after a three-year-old girl whose case had been assigned to him was beaten to death. Wright also has a criminal record, having been charged with two misdemeanors last year. He is part-owner of a liquor store and bar in Allapattah, on a corner police characterize as a hotbed of drug-related crime. (The other assistant coach, Tyrone Hart, who joined the program in 1998, came with more than twenty years of college coaching experience at the Division II level.)
Add in this year's turmoil, his assistant coaches' behavior while at FIU, and the fact that only four basketball players have graduated from the university during Rodriguez's five-year reign, and a certain word leaps to mind to describe the entire program: shaky.
Despite his boorish behavior off the court, and his often selfish play on the court, point guard Carlos Arroyo remains the coach's pet. Rodriguez calls Arroyo his "quarterback." In his efforts to keep the Puerto Rican signal-caller on the court, Rodriguez has created a caste system on his team, in which there are two groups: the quarterback, and everybody else.
Outwardly at least, Rodriguez's treatment of Arroyo has appeared to be one of tough love. The coach suspended Arroyo on December 17, 1998, "for academic and basketball reasons." He told the Miami Herald the suspension was indefinite, and could last for the entire season if the player didn't straighten himself out. "I felt I did what I had to in the best interest of this team and program, but, more than anything, Carlos Arroyo," Rodriguez said then. "Obviously it's not in my best interest as a coach not to have him on the court. He's a great player and we need him. But I think our job as coaches entails more than just trying to win basketball games."
What Rodriguez didn't say -- and, given the privacy rules surrounding student grades, was not allowed to say -- was that Carlos Arroyo's grades were so bad that he had flunked out of FIU.
The university has a kind of "three-strikes" system for dismissing students. All students (not just athletes) must maintain a 2.0 cumulative grade-point average, a C grade, to stay in. If a student's GPA drops below 2.0 at the end of any semester, he gets an academic warning. From there another sub-2.0 semester places the student on probation. If a student begins a semester on probation, then fails to achieve a 2.0 average for his classes in that semester, his status becomes dismissal.
According to grade records obtained by New Times, Carlos Arroyo entered the fall 1998 semester on probation, with a 1.952 GPA -- close enough to the line that anything above a C average would have gotten him out of hot water. But he didn't come close. His grades for fall 1998: an A- in Skills and Practice of Basketball; C- in Leisure in Your Life; a D- in Introduction to Micro Computers; F in the Evolution of Jazz; and an incomplete in Introduction to Sociology. Even after the incomplete was changed to a C-, his GPA for the semester was only 1.761, his cumulative 1.898. A computer printout of his records for that semester lists his academic status as dismissal.
And yet his suspension from the team lasted just two games. At the beginning of the spring 1999 semester, he was still a student at FIU, and still a member of the basketball team. One athletics administrator explains it is possible, after a student is dismissed from school, for that student to appeal to the appropriate dean for a one-time reinstatement. In Arroyo's case, as a sophomore with an undeclared major, he would have had to appeal to the dean of undergraduate studies.
Rodriguez says he learned that Arroyo had been dismissed, and sent him back from a team road trip to appeal the dismissal. Other than that the coach says he had no involvement in Arroyo getting his second chance.
But Arroyo was still on probation, and if his grades in any semester dropped below 2.0, he would be dismissed again, this time for good. In the first semester of Arroyo's second chance, though, something suspicious happened. A printout of his grades for the spring 1999 semester, dated October 7, 1999, shows that he finished with a 2.077 GPA for the semester. His cumulative stood at 1.943, so he remained on probation. On November 11, 1999, however, his records show that his F in The Freshman Experience had been changed to a C+. This brought his semester GPA up to 2.256, and his cumulative to 1.988 -- still on probation, but not by much.
Rodriguez remembers that grade change. He says the professor made a mistake. FIU vice president Paul Gallagher explains there were many different sections of the Freshman Experience in spring 1999. Arroyo attended the wrong one by mistake and earned a C+; the professor in the section he was supposed to be in saw that Arroyo was permanently absent and gave him an F. Gallagher says fifteen students had similar problems with that class. Again the coach emphasizes he had no direct involvement in convincing the instructor to change the grade.