Ron Morris

Morris: FAU or FIU? Schools hard to tell apart

Florida Atlantic quarterback Rusty Smith throws in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Nebraska, in Lincoln, Neb., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009.(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Florida Atlantic quarterback Rusty Smith throws in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Nebraska, in Lincoln, Neb., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009.(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

If you are like me, you have a difficult time differentiating between Florida Atlantic University and Florida International University. They both compete in the Sun Belt Conference. Both have started football programs within the decade. Both have at least one famous coach, although in different sports.

So, you are not alone when every time Howard Schnellenberger's name is mentioned, you pause to gather your senses then attempt to figure out if he coaches at Florida Atlantic or Florida International. When Isiah Thomas' name pops up in conversation, there is the same pause, then you scratch your head attempting to name which of the two schools recently hired him.

Do not feel bad. A couple of weeks ago, a reporter for the New York Times called the Florida Atlantic sports information office in search of a relative who played for that school's football team. Turns out, the kid played for Florida International.

In a never-ending effort to provide a service to readers, following are a few differences between the two schools/programs/teams.

First off, Florida Atlantic is proud of its name. It prefers you use the full name as much as possible. Florida International wants to be called FIU, much as Texas Christian likes to go by TCU and UNC Charlotte is now Charlotte.

Florida Atlantic is located in Boca Raton, a 45-minute drive through traffic north from the FIU campus in Miami.

The Florida Atlantic campus was a U.S. Army airfield during World War II. FIU was named one of the "10 Cool Colleges for Entrepreneurs" by Fortune Small Business magazine.

Florida Atlantic's nickname is the Owls because the campus was designated a burrowing owl sanctuary in 1971 by the Audubon Society. FIU's nickname was the Sunblazers from 1972 through 1986 until school president Modesto Maidique (among the top 10 coolest college presidents names, by the way) renamed his school's teams the Golden Panthers in deference to Florida's natural environment.

Schnellenberger, who coached Miami to the national championship in 1983 and has been a head coach previously at Miami, Louisville and Oklahoma, is Florida Atlantic's coach. Schnellenberger was a first-year assistant coach with the Miami Dolphins in 1970, the year FIU coach Mario Cristobal (among the top 10 college coaches names, by the way) was born.

Mike Jarvis, the former St. John's coach, is in his second season as men's basketball coach at Florida Atlantic. FIU hired NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas as its coach during the off-season.

Florida Atlantic has played its home football games at 20,000-seat Lockhart Stadium since 2003 and will move into a new 30,000-seat, on-campus stadium next season. FIU opened a new 18,000-seat on-campus stadium in 2008.

Florida Atlantic claims the highest percentage of home-state players among FBS schools with 107 of 113 (94.7 percent) from Florida. FIU is not far behind with 92 of 106 (86.7 percent) from in-state.

Florida Atlantic never has been involved in a brawl in its football history. FIU and Miami squared off in a nasty on-field fight in 2006 that made the South Carolina-Clemson skirmish in 2004 look like child's play.

Florida Atlantic's record in nine seasons of football is 48-48. FIU's record in eight seasons of football is 11-60, but includes seven wins wiped away by NCAA sanctions.

Florida Atlantic is the only team in the state of Florida to post bowl wins following both the 2007 and 2008 seasons. The Owls won the New Orleans Bowl and Motor City Bowl. FIU never has qualified for a bowl, coming close a season ago with a 5-7 record that included a 57-50 overtime loss to Florida Atlantic.

Florida Atlantic formed a small marching band, decked in Hawaiian shirts, for the 2002 and 2003 seasons. After a one-year hiatus, the Marching Owls became reality and all 65 members now wear band uniforms. FIU trimmed $200,000 from its athletics budget this year by eliminating its marching band, thus becoming the only FBS team without one.

Let's recap here. It is Florida Atlantic that plays USC on Saturday night. The Owls are coached by Howard Schnellenberger and have won consecutive bowl games. Florida Atlantic will not bring its band to Williams-Brice Stadium because it does not have one. No wait, that is FIU.

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