Posted on: December 11, 2011 2:29 pm
What happened Saturday between Cincinnati and Xavier was disgusting, and it deserves words along those lines. Words of disgust and revulsion, heavy-handed words about the need for suspensions or expulsions after players from both teams brawled so badly that officials simply called off the game with time left on the clock. It was either that, or eject almost everybody and call it a forfeit on both sides. Which wouldn't have been a bad idea, come to think of it ...
But anyway, those are not the words I'm writing today. Other people have written those words, and they are fine words, but not me. Not here. Not today.
Because what happened Saturday after Cincinnati and Xavier brawled was beautiful, and it deserves words along those lines. Words of wonder and passion, high-minded words about the need for self-improvement and self-respect. In fact, it deserves words I'm not capable of writing, because nothing I write here -- with hours to think, edit, arrange -- can compare to the 12 minutes of words that flew out of Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin in the aftermath of the ugliest afternoon of his coaching career.
From here on out, you're going to read more from Mick Cronin than you're going to read from me, because I can't top what he said after the game Saturday. Maybe I can add some context here and there, and I'll try, but starting now the floor goes to Cronin, who sat down behind the microphones on Saturday and volunteered the following about what he had just witnessed:
"There is no excuse for that in basketball," Cronin said. "You've got to learn how to win on one side, you've got to learn how to lose on the other side. All these kids all need to realize they are here to get an education ...
"These guys, very few of them are ever going to make a dollar playing basketball. They are here to get an education at two great universities and they need to appreciate that. The world doesn't revolve around them, around basketball. They need to learn how to act -- they need to have respect for the fact they are on a scholarship, that people come to see them play."
From here, let me say that these are not words I would have expected to hear from Cronin. The first time we "met," it was a phone call in 2005 from Cronin after I had written something about his team at Murray State. I believe the word I used that set Cronin off was "renegade," a reference to any program that would allow Keith Jenifer to dress out. Cronin objected to the word. Maybe I was wrong in 2005. Maybe I was right, and Cronin has changed since then. I don't know, and I don't care. Today I'm marveling at Mick Cronin's reaction to Saturday's fight. More from him:
"Too much glorification of all of sports in our society," Cronin said. "The fact is, guys are here to get an education. They represent institutions of higher learning. Xavier has been a great school for years. We are trying to cure cancer at Cincinnati. I go to school at a place where they discovered the vaccine for polio and created Benadryl. I think that's more important than who wins a basketball game."
Notice how Cronin mentions both teams, both schools, because he was speaking not just as a coach, but as a human being. The coach in him was horrified at what his own players had done, but the human being in him was distraught about the actions of both teams. He made it a point not to lay the blame on Xavier, noting that players on both teams had been talking all game. Who said what, and when? Why did it escalate? Cronin wasn't worried about that. More from him:
"If my players don't act the right way, they will never play another game at Cincinnati," Cronin said. "Right now, I just told my guys, 'I will meet with my AD and my president and I'm going to decide who is on the team going forward.' I've never been this embarrassed. I'm hoping [UC] President [Gregory] Williams doesn't ask me to resign after that.
"I made everybody take their jersey off -- and they will not put it on again until they have a full understanding of where they go to school and what the university stands for and how lucky they are to even be there, let alone have a scholarship, because there's a whole lot of kids that can't pay for college and don't get to go to school. My mom didn't get to go to UC. She grew up on campus, [but] they couldn't afford it."
At this point, a media member asked Cronin if he'd literally made his players take off their jerseys. More from him:
"Absolutely -- they are all sitting in there with no jersey on," Cronin said. "Some of them I physically took them off. That whole scene, it's embarrassing. To be a part of that? Are you kidding me? It's a complete embarrassment. No matter who started what. Just the whole thing, it's a complete embarrassment."
Cronin's team had just lost 76-53, which was the score when officials called off the game. More from him:
"We talk all the time: Toughness is doing the right thing in life. That is what we talk about. If that is the case, [if] you are being provoked, this or that -- true toughness, you walk away from it. You take your ass-whipping and you go home."
Cronin then brought up something he'd seen on television in recent weeks, a segment on 60 Minutes about the rising number of homeless in Central Florida.
"Guys, there's thousands of people in our country -- watch 60 Minutes -- that's homeless. You are not that important. None of us. Have some class. Represent your university, and I am talking about everybody involved. Let's be honest, guys, come on. It's a basketball game.
"Represent our university. That is what I was hired to do six years ago. That's what will happen as long as I'm the coach. Whether we have five guys on the team on Monday or 10 or 13. There is enough guys out there that would appreciate the scholarship. I don't care how good you are."
Some tougher follow-up from Cronin would have been nice. It's one thing to talk tough, and it's something else to be tough. Cronin suspended his best two big men, Yancy Gates and Cheikh Mbodj, for six games after Gates sucker-punched Xavier's Kenny Frease, and Mbodj appeared to stomp on him. Cronin also suspended Octavius Ellis for six games, and Ge'Lawn Guyn for one.
Tough enough? Matter of opinion. Gates and Mbodj could have been kicked off the team, but I'm in no mood to second-guess Cronin. Not after what he said Saturday. Some will say -- based on the relatively short suspensions for Gates and Mbodj -- that Cronin was speaking empty words on Saturday.
Me, I'd disagree. Empty words? Those words were chock-full of outrage and perspective. They were words every coach in the country should show his players this week. Lord knows most coaches would never say those words themselves. Since when has a Division I coach ever said, "The world doesn't revolve around basketball," or, "You [players] are not that important"?
Cronin finished Saturday's speech with a flourish.
"That whole scene is just an embarrassment," he said. "Guys think they are way too important in the scope of what is going on in the world. It's not professional sports. Thanks guys."
Cronin got up and left. The video of the press conference ends there, but not before you can hear the final sound: Applause from those in attendance.