How Cincy-Xavier Game Shows the Difference Between College and High School


When I watched the “highlights” of the brawl between Cincinnati and Xavier the other night, I was absolutely astounded. Fights happen from time-to-time in college sports, but this one was as ugly as I have ever seen. The way Yancy Gates from Cincinnati threw his punches around like a wild animal, landing a sucker punch on Kenny Frease while he wasn’t even looking, jumping around looking for others to punch, even turning at one point fists held high toward one of the assistant coaches was as ugly a scene as you will ever witness on the basketball court.

Then, to see Cheikh Mbodj stomp on the head of Frease while he was down bloody took it to a whole different level. But, after that bloody melee, I was very impressed with

the stern comments by Cincinnati coach Mike Cronin talking about how he was so embarrassed, how he was wondering who deserved to “even be on the team”, and how he had them remove their uniforms “some physically” until they understand how to behave.

On the other hand, I was very upset by the comments of some of the Xavier players like Tu Holloway talking about “where we from” and “we gangstas”. As someone who grew up as a low-middle class white boy in tough neighborhoods in the inner city of Tacoma, where I had to take the bus to school through Hill Top and Shalishan and had to change buses downtown before they fixed up the place, those comments were everything that people of those communities should be staying away from like the plague. These are exactly the kind of comments that give those communities bad reputations and cause the “white flight” from those communities because parents are scared of what will happen to their children.

Universities represent an opportunity for young black kids of talent and potential to improve their lot in life and bring respectibility for themselves, their families, and their communities. The opportunity to attend an institution of higher learning, with a chance at an education, college degree, and better job prospects (for most of which are outside of the NBA) is something that can not be replaced.

These kids from the ghetto always talk about “Respect“. Well, that is what getting a college degree is about. For many of these kids, those opportunities would not exist without basketball (either financially without a scholarship or academically). When they are done playing hoops, the respect and opportunities they will earn with a college degree beats anything they will get going back “where we from” without it.

But, to only give Yancy Gates a six game suspension (and less to the others involved) sends exactly the wrong message. This was more than a fight, more than a brief lapse of judgement in the heat of the moment. It was an outpouring in public of what some of these kids really are about deep down. It was a window into their souls. The message that they send to the greater world about their universities, their team, their communities, and their coaches is that winning games matters more than character development and education opportunities.

When I was a high school basketball coach, such a fight most definitely would have resulted in the suspension for the rest of the season of the player most responsible for starting it or most vicious in their actions (Yancy Gates or Tu Holloway in this case). Sure, it might result in my team losing games, but the message and my mentoring of those kids was more important. When we had an incident where my best player got so angry at an opposing player mocking him that he charged at (but, was stopped by other players before he could throw a punch), I suspended him for the next game anyways because I knew his intentions. I had the chance to use that as a learning opportunity having a conference the next school day with his mother and the principal. In addition, I forced him to write a letter of apology to the team, our principal, and the other team’s coach.

Yeah, we got blown out in the next game, but the message was more important than the result. I saw that player take more responsibility for his emotions as the season moved on and he was a better player in the long run for it. But, in high school it isn’t about the money is it? It isn’t about my job security, TV revenue, or the wishes of the fanbase. It is about learning opportunities that sports provide in that educational setting. That is why we have sports in our high schools isn’t it? That is why colleges originally offered sports as extracurricular activities as well. But, somewhere along the way, all of that was lost. Somewhere along the way, the almight dollar, and winning games, and getting into the NCAA tournament mattered more. Coaches are more concerned about keeping their jobs now, rather than what is in the best interest of their players over the long haul.

So, when former Xavier coach Sean Miller was quoted as saying:

“If Cincinnati tries to do what they did today, they’re going to get a fight,” Miller told the Arizona Daily Star. “That’s what happened. So I’m proud of those guys. Happens every game,” he said. “I’m proud of those guys, I really am. I would fully expect there to be a fight.”

I was made even more sick to my stomach. Sean Miller is supposed to be one of those mentors a mother relies on to helped those players rise above the violence and anger they left in their communities to achieve something greater in their lives. He should not be condoning it, he should be using it as a tool for his own players of how not to behave and what consequences could come of those actions.

If there is a silver lining to this incident, it may be represented by Yancy Gates crying at his apology press conference. If Mike Cronin was able to adequately explain and consel Gates on how his actions hurt the team, the university, the city of Cincinnati, and himself and if Gates was really sincere about his actions and wants to improve his life, then maybe something good will come of this ugly incident.