Griz Grit: The Changing Landscape of Collegiate Athletics

By MICK HOLIEN for the Flathead Beacon

What happened on the basketball floor recently in Cincinnati was one of the ugliest scenes I have ever seen in sports.

But while the melee at the end of the cross-town rivalry game between Cincinnati and unbeaten Xavier was in itself troublesome, the press conference that followed and ensuing punishment border on the absurd.

This game, a 79-year matchup of the Queen City’s Division-I basketball programs, has had its share of spirited encounters as it should when you match two schools situated so close together in the same city.

Cincinnati dates its rich tradition back to the days of Oscar Robertson and Xavier’s program has surfaced to be one of the nation’s finest. But, in my opinion, the brawl that occurred at the end of their recent matchup had little to do with tradition and rivalry and more to do with the mentality of today’s collegiate athletes. Sports have drastically evolved to the point that I sure don’t recognize it from years ago.

The on-court debacle that ended the Crosstown Shootout with Xavier leading by 23 points with 9 seconds remaining emptied both benches, fists swinging wildly and included a total lack of immediate control by officials and coaches who themselves were probably concerned about wading into the confrontation.
Then came the concerning press conference remarks by Xavier’s Tu Holloway, defending his actions in taunting the UC bench near the end of the game. His actions, he maintained, were in reaction to a radio interview earlier in the week in which he felt disrespected. There also was reportedly Twittering and other social media flying around with similar assertions.

What ensued included Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates sucker-punching 7-footer Kenny Frease, dropping him immediately to the floor and opening up a gash just below his eye.

At the press conference Holloway and teammate Mark Lyons offered no apologies or excuses, but instead acted as if they were proud of what occurred.

“I don’t regret what happened.”

It could be argued that in the heat of the moment – and I will refuse to use the battle or competition vernacular here – anything can and often does happen. But how in the world are athletes allowed to face the media after such an instance without an understanding of the seriousness of what occurred?

University of Montana basketball coach Wayne Tinkle said he’s unsure if he would even allow players to come out of the locker room after such an event. He added that his players know that if something does occur, no one leaves his bench under any circumstances.

A day after the Xavier-Cincinnati game, there were apologies and explanations. Then came the penalties – suspensions from one to six games. I don’t know what the appropriate suspensions should be, but I know Xavier Coach Chris Mack, in talking about a teachable moment, misses the point.

The teachable moment is to make sure the punishment is strict enough for every player everywhere to realize the ramifications of such unacceptable behavior. And that isn’t missing a handful of non-conference games.

And every coach at every level should already let his or her players know there is never an excuse or justification for what occurred nor will it be tolerated under any circumstances.

That is a teachable moment.

Coach Tinkle said he saw three such instances on the floors of AAU competition in California last summer.

It’s not just college basketball. The sports landscape has changed, and not for the better. And until someone has the gumption to take a stand, maybe like Chip Kelly did with LeGarrette Blount who was indefinitely suspended at Oregon after he punched a Boise State player, such instances are bound to accelerate.

And just what message of acceptability does that send to the youth who are exposed to such instances by endless television replays?

 

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Now in his 27th year of broadcasting University of Montana football or basketball games, award winning journalist Mick Holien has a unique and insightful perspective on collegiateathletics.