The brawl between Xavier and Cincinnati in the closing minute of their game Saturday was not only a poor reflection on those basketball teams, but a microcosm of how college athletic programs continue to fail, as a whole.
Words were said, fist flew, trash talked continued; the resulting punishment...nothing more than a slap on the wrist.
Four players from both teams were suspended for their roles in the melee.
Three Bearcats were given six game suspensions, including Yancy Gates who sucker punched Xavier's Kenny Frease leaving him bloodier than a UFC fighter after five rounds in the cage. Cincinnati also gave a six game penalty to Cheikh Mbodj who pulled a Ndamukong Suh and stomped on Frease after he fell to the ground after getting cold clocked by Gates.
Xavier handed out a pair of four game suspensions, a two-gamer, and a one game sit down to its best player, All-American candidate, Tu Holloway.
None of these players will miss "pivotal" games. Most won't even sit out a game in conference play.
What kind of lesson is learned from these Charmin-soft penalties?
In the press conference following the game, which was ended nine seconds early because of the fight, Holloway said, "We got disrespected a little bit before the game, guys calling us out. We are a tough team, we are grown men over here. We've got a whole bunch of gangsters in the locker room, not thugs, but tough guys on the court. We went out there and zipped them up."
In Tu's eyes, a grown man proves his toughness by fighting and showing up his opponent. Judging by their actions, I think Cincinnati's players feel the same way.
This mentality didn't just boil over from what was said during a radio interview or on Twitter. This started from not being taught accountability. And at a place of 'higher' learning, this is simply unacceptable.
Gates and Holloway are pivotal pieces to what their teams hope will be seasons that end in deep runs through March. No doubt, their talent on the basketball court has opened multiple doors for them. They both earned scholarships to play, and hopefully study, at Division I universities which, in theory, should set them up nicely for any professional career moving forward.
But, they are clearly not using the opportunity to grow into men, not the kind that is defined by a perception of toughness, but one that is defined by reality.
If they were, the fight never would have occurred.
Guys would have talked smack and just let it roll off their backs because a real man's toughness is not how he connects with his fist, but how he connects with his mind.
Winning should have been enough for Holloway. He did his job and shut up any trash talk the Bearcats may have thrown his way prior to the game. But, Holloway wasn't content with his own accomplishments, he needed more. He needed the satisfaction of knowing his opponent was humiliated in the process, so he started a brawl. He is like the guy dating a super model who has to go out and tell everyone about it. He needs attention to justify his success.
Holloway is weak minded.
These players clearly need people to set an example of what it means to be a man. Sadly, the suspensions that were handed out prove those who should be role models have no more of a clue than their immature players.
Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin gave an emotional, inspirational post-game speech regarding the actions of his players.
"If my players don't act the right way, they will never play another game at Cincinnati," he said. "I will meet with my AD and my president and decide who will be on the TEAM moving forward. That's what the University of Cincinnati is about. PERIOD."
Ok, Rafeal Palmeiro. That sounds nice, but suspending your players for games that mean about as much as a five dollar bill in a Vegas strip club, makes the message fall hollow. All it proves is that discipline is important as long as it doesn't impede winning.
These players are spoiled and have been catered to because they are exceptional athletes.
When will being an exceptional person start outweighing being an exceptional athlete?
Season long suspensions, or at very least, missing a double-digit amount of games is in order. Doing so would send a very real message. Both Xavier and Cincinnati likely would lose their fair share of games with their best players watching from the sideline. Wouldn't they get a better understanding of the magnitude of their actions when they see their teams struggle, and maybe even miss the postseason?
Instead, these guys will be back on the floor no later than mid-January. That's plenty of time to help their teams pad their NCAA Tournament resume.
College sports programs across the country are trying to get out in front of any controversy in the wake of the Penn State, Ohio State, and Syracuse scandals. They are trying to prove they have control over their teams and the players who represent their schools.
Cincinnati and Xavier are being represented by, in their own word, "gangsters," and those who had the chance to redefine that representation are doing nothing to change it.
College experiences, for all students, are supposed to serve as life lessons. The one that was taken away from Saturday's brawl is actions have consequences, well, until those consequences hinder the opportunity to win and make more money.
The brawl left players battered, bloodied, and bruised. If done right, the suspensions COULD have been a band-aid to mend the damage, but instead, resulted in another black eye to the reputations of the teams, schools, and college sports.