When you want an opinion or judgment that is absolutely meaningless, consider our opinions on an official's call in a basketball game. We can moan and complain all we want, and we can use video replay to make our case that an official's call was correct or incorrect. Yet it doesn't matter. The official's call always stands and cannot be changed, no matter how right and righteous we outsiders believe we are.
What matters in an official's call are two things: the rule as written and the official's interpretation and enforcement of the rule. Right or wrong, the official's call is the law of the court and cannot be changed or challenged. The rule governs, and the official enforces the rule. It can only be opined upon, criticized or agreed with by outsiders.
The same is true with regard to a fight in a basketball game. A fight might offend our sensibilities and draw our ire, but the ultimate decisions regarding the actions of those involved in a fight rest with the on-court rules, the officials on the floor, the conference and the schools. The rest of us can have our opinions, but our opinions don't matter.
Fights are governed by Rule 10 of the NCAA's basketball rules of play. If a player is deemed to have participated in a fight, he is ejected from that game and suspended for the next game. Essentially, that is a one-game penalty. The rules actually contemplate a player being involved in more than one fight during a season. Rule 10 states that a player will be suspended for the season if he is deemed to have participated in a second fight in the same season. That is instructive.
The rules also cover leaving the bench during a fight. The only person who is allowed to leave the bench during a fight is the head coach. Any player or assistant coach who leaves the bench during a fight is subject to ejection. The rules do not mandate a suspension for leaving the bench.
Those rules were on display Tuesday night during an ugly brawl in the Kansas State-Kansas game at Allen Fieldhouse. The game was over, with Kansas leading by over 20 points and only deep bench players and walk-ons on the floor. It was "garbage time." As Silvio De Sousa crossed half court with the ball, Kansas was set to run the clock out. Instead of simply allowing Kansas to run the clock out and end the game, DaJuan Gordon stole the ball from De Sousa and sprinted with the ball to the other end to score. That was unnecessary.
De Sousa, who lost the ball to Gordon, sprinted down the floor and blocked Gordon's shot. That was unnecessary.
After the blocked shot, with the clock at 0:00 and the game literally over, De Sousa stood over Gordon, who had fallen to the floor, and taunted him. That was wholly unnecessary.
But none of that unnecessary stuff was a fight. It contributed to an atmosphere where a fight might break out, but none of it was a fight.
The fight started when Kansas State players, led by Antonio Gordon and James Love III, left the Kansas State bench and physically went after De Sousa on the baseline. De Sousa was knocked down, and the fight began. Kansas players entered the fray, at least one, David McCormack, to participate in the fight, others to break it up. Both head coaches and assistants were trying to break up the fight. The officials put themselves in harm's way to break up the fight. Punches were thrown. De Sousa picked up a stool and held it over his head before dropping it behind him. It was an ugly mess, and it was totally unacceptable.
The officials went to the monitor to determine which players participated in the fight and who had left the bench. De Sousa, McCormack, Antonio Gordon and Love were all deemed to have participated in the fight, and everyone else was deemed to have left the bench. The officials then put time back on the clock, brought the head coaches and players on the floor at the end of the game (minus those who had been ejected) and had those players inbound the ball and finish the game. While the rules might call for that or allow it, it was a ridiculous sight after such an ugly, disgusting brawl. It was unnecessary.
After the game, we were all breathless and emotional in responding to the ugliness of the fight.
You heard it all: It is unacceptable. There is no place for such behavior in college basketball. This will not be tolerated. De Sousa should never wear a uniform in college again. Punishments should be swift and severe. Yet another embarrassment for Kansas after the NCAA notice of allegations, Snoop Dogg and now this. Kansas fought for De Sousa's eligibility after the FBI investigation, then he does this. Every issue was collated with this fight and rolled into one. It was First Take on steroids, and very little of it centered on the rules and precedent.
The rules make it clear. De Sousa, McCormack, Antonio Gordon and Love were participants in the fight and are suspended for their team's next game. Those who left the bench but were not ruled to have participated in the fight are not subject to suspension under the rules. That is the minimum sanction. The only ones with authority to add to those sanctions are the conference (the Big 12) and the two schools involved. This isn't about perception, the NCAA notice of allegations, Snoop Dogg or anything else. It is solely about participation in the fight. Anything more is inappropriate and wrong.
Working together, the Big 12 office, Kansas and Kansas State agreed upon suspensions for the players involved in the fight. De Sousa was suspended for 12 games, Love for eight games, Antonio Gordon for three games and McCormack for two games. Those who left the bench were reprimanded.
Some thought the suspensions were too light. Others thought the suspensions were reasonable. But, a day later, the tone of the discussion seemed far more tempered.
My opinion? There was plenty of blame to go around, and several contributing factors to the fight, but no excuses. Those who participated in the fight were wrong, period. Yet, as all reasonable people can agree, once we establish that the fight was wrong and those involved should be sanctioned, it is also useful to examine the factors that led to the fight and how such a fight can be avoided in the future.
First, when the clock is running out in a blowout, let the clock run out. Don't try for a steal. It is unnecessary. And, while the officials did a great job overall in dealing with the fight and did not make a mistake in this, I would consider calling a foul on the defender going for the steal. The offensive team was clearly trying to run out the clock. If you call the foul, you avoid a potential bad situation and discourage the same thing in the future. Reasonable minds can differ on this thought, but I think it would be a good way for an official to handle a situation. Remember, we saw the same thing in the Kansas-Monmouth game earlier this season.
Second, don't try to defend your basket after the steal when you were running out the clock. It is unnecessary. Did it lead to the fight? No, but if you let it go, there is no fight.
Third, stop the taunting. When you dunk on someone or block a shot, that's great. Celebrate it with your teammates. Just leave your opponent out of it. Taunting an opponent doesn't make the dunk or block more impressive. One thing you can guarantee, we will see taunting technical fouls more often going forward, and perhaps we should.
Fourth, let's stop calling the players "kids." They are not kids, they are adults. They are men. Calling them "kids" infantilizes them. After all, the NCAA calls this Men's Basketball and not Boys' Basketball or Kids' Basketball. These are young men.
Lastly, the suspensions were within reason. Would I have argued if they were a bit longer or shorter? No. I was unmoved and unpersuaded by calls to suspend De Sousa for the season or talk that he should never wear a college uniform again. Could the result of the fight have been worse and people, including spectators, injured? Yes, that could have happened. But it didn't happen. The Big 12 had to sanction what happened, not what could have happened.
We have condemned the action, and those involved have been sanctioned. For Kansas and Kansas State, the next step is to make sure the punished players are taken care of and get the help and support they need. De Sousa has been pilloried and will be followed by the menacing photos of him with the stool forever. That will not be easy to deal with. These are young men who made errors in judgment in a heated situation. They were wrong. But they should not be thrown out with yesterday's trash. De Sousa is a young man who made a mistake, not a punching bag for those upset with Kansas or the NCAA. He needs proper support, as do McCormack, Antonio Gordon and Love.
It was ugly and unacceptable, but it is over. Fortunately, nobody got hurt. We should all move on having learned from it and being better for it.