Xavier head coach Chris Mack deserved the longest suspension. Instead, he’ll parlay Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons into a major-college job and a fat pay raise.
If you expected Mack or Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin to use Saturday’s embarrassing, game-ending Xavier-Cincinnati basketbrawl as a teaching tool for their players, you don’t understand modern-day, major-college athletics.
Coaches are no longer required to pretend they’re interested in “molding” young men. It’s just win, baby, and move on to your next job and/or contract extension.
With arguably the best backcourt in hoops — Holloway and Lyons — No. 8 Xavier has a real opportunity to be this year’s Butler, the mid-major with Final Four talent, and an even better chance of launching Mack into the Big Ten, ACC or Pac-12.
This is no time for Mack to teach Holloway and Lyons about sportsmanship, class and properly representing their university, family, teammates and themselves. This is the time to win at all costs. This is the time to rationalize and make excuses.
So Mack suspended a freshman and a walk-on for four games, Lyons for two and Holloway, the All-America candidate, for one. Mack justified his love taps on the wrists by blaming the refs for not taking control of the game earlier with technical foul calls and saying he and his support staff made a mistake letting Holloway and Lyons address the media Saturday afternoon.
Holloway and Lyons are upperclassmen. They’ve been in Chris Mack’s program for at least three years. Based on what we saw and heard from them Saturday, they haven’t learned all that much from Mack.
Holloway, a senior, described the Xavier players as “gangsters.” Lyons, a junior, expressed pride in the fact he and his teammates didn’t back down from Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates. Holloway instigated the brawl with his constant trash-talking.
Mack did next to nothing in response.
Cronin wasn’t much better. Gates knocked Xavier center Kenny Frease to the floor with a sucker punch and Cheikh Mbodj stomped on Freese’s head when he was on the ground, blackening and bloodying Freese’s eye. Gates then threw punches at multiple Xavier players. Gates and Mbodj were suspended six games each.
A day after personally promising stiff penalties for his players and indicating he might boot a player or two from his team, Cronin hid behind his administration, saying the suspensions were decided above his head. Cronin now just wants Gates, Mbodj and two other Bearcats to make sincere public apologies and then Cronin will decide whether to let them back on the team.
It doesn’t matter now. Mack and Cronin have already sent a message to their teams and young people in Cincinnati. They have embarrassingly low expectations for the players on their team.
Gates and Mbodj should be suspended for the remainder of the season, given the same penalty as LeGarrette Blount, a former Oregon football player who missed most of his final college season after sucker-punching a trash-talking Boise State player. The harsh suspension taught Blount a difficult lesson. It did not prevent Blount from making the NFL.
Holloway and Lyons deserved eight-game suspensions. They’re the leaders of their team. The sheer idiocy they expressed with their postgame comments explained all we need to know about why the brawl happened.
They think they’re “gangsters.” They think that “where we’re from,” as Lyons said, you handle on-court trash talk with fisticuffs.
They’re not gangsters. Allegedly they’re college students. And they’re from the Xavier University campus. Chris Mack should’ve taught them that by now. Mack should be embarrassed. Instead, he offered excuses and rationalizations.
Where is Xavier’s school president, athletics director, administration, who should be stepping in and doing the right thing? Just like Mack, they’re somewhere dreaming of the Final Four and the cash that will flood into the school if Lyons and Holloway lead the Musketeers on a long tournament run.
If Penn State can overlook Jerry Sandusky’s alleged sex-abuse transgressions, why can’t Xavier brush off a brawl with its most bitter rival and the asinine comments of a couple of kids?
Beyond entertainment, big-time college football and basketball have few redeeming qualities. The chase for money and the next job trump everything else.