Coaches' fighting words ring hollow

Phil Jackman

September 28, 1993|By Phil Jackman

Sportsmanship (or the lack thereof) was discussed at length here a couple of weeks ago and, running the risk of being classified as a Johnny One Note kind of guy, already it's time to talk about it again.

Four, count 'em, four bench-clearing brawls occurred at college football games Saturday. To paraphrase the old-line hockey detractors chorus, "I went to a fight and an ACC game broke out."

Not to be outdone, there was an ugly situation at the Miami-Buffalo pro game Sunday, which wasn't helped by NBC's providing pictures of Dolphins linebacker Bryan Cox giving an obscene gesture to the crowd at Rich Stadium before the game as though he was the pope blessing the crowd in Papal Square.

Maybe even worse than ugly displays of Schwarzenegger-Stallone-Van Damme genre movies behavior at the Maryland-Virginia Tech, North Carolina-North Carolina State, Duke-Virginia (are you picking up the trend here?) and (surprise) Miami-Colorado games was the reaction of a battery of coaches asked about the hostilities.

"It has no place in our game," said Tom Coughlin of Boston College.

"It's unacceptable for college football," revealed Mark Duffner of Maryland. "I'll talk to the players."

"I'm disappointed. I hate to see kids out of control to that point," said Doug Graber of Rutgers.

"I'm concerned," said Johnny Majors of Pitt, "but there are hundreds of games each weekend; this is not a time to push the panic button."

"Stuff like that hurts everyone," said Don Nehlen of West Virginia.

"We're sorry," said Frank Beamer of VPI. "I've got a [video] tape coming I'm going to look at to determine if we owe [Maryland] an apology."

"I only heard about it. I haven't seen any of the tapes. It wouldn't be proper to comment," said Paul Pasqualoni of Syracuse.

And one of the coaches who had a team involved, Dennis Erickson of Miami, chose not to comment at all, having said all he cared to after the game. Then, his assessment of the sequel to the movie "The Longest Yard" was, "Obviously, it's not going to help our reputation."

That's taking the old bull by the horns, isn't it?

"From the moment we got there [Colorado] to the end of the game, there was an atmosphere of hate and dislike," said Erickson, hardly a new experience for his Hurricanes.

This, of course, is becoming more and more prevalent on campuses and, in spite of their direct involvement, the influential coaches seem in no hurry to do their part in setting things right. They're too busy watching film and doing their TV shows, obviously.

"It's a physical and violent game, but there has to be discipline, too," allowed Coughlin. "I think there will be changes made, but as for recommendations, I've got enough problems getting ready for Syracuse right now [to think about it]."

"I don't think our conference [Big East] will be stigmatized," said Graber. "After all, three [actually five] ACC teams were involved. Right now I'm concerned with our team."

Majors, while re-emphasizing his "concern," added, "I don't think it's time to get the NCAA involved." Who then?

The only Big East coach who took the time (about 10 seconds) to think about it and offer corrective measures was Ron Dickerson of Temple, whose team already has been pummeled by California, 57-0, and B.C., 66-14, so you know he's busy:

"We constantly put rules in on crazy things, like players doing a dance in the end zone. Let's work on some rules on more important things. Rules should be stricter on fighting, maybe something like they do in basketball: you get involved and you're not only out of that game but you're suspended from the next one, too."

Across the board, each coach, while allowing that bench-clearing brawls are a problem, didn't see it as a priority. Without exception all said, "right now I'm concerned with our team."

Also involved here is the control all these character-builders have over the charges. Coaches, almost without exception, are control freaks. It's a direct and embarrassing slap to their reputations when their players give the impression they were trained and are directed by some guy who makes Kung-Fu movies for a living.

For the time being, at least, we will have to be content with the prediction that the NCAA football rules committee will look into the possibility of suspending fight participants when it next meets in January. Then the football season will be over and the memory of "Brawl Weekend" will be a dusty memory.

Business as usual. After all, the potential for a mid-game brawl certainly figures to help the gate.

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