The University of Cincinnati mens basketball program held a press conference Monday afternoon to discuss the nasty brawl with rival Xavier University at the end of the Crosstown Shootout Saturday afternoon.
There were apologies issued by Yancy Gates, Cheikh Mbodj, Ge-Lawn Guyn and Octavious Ellis following the announcement of their suspensions on Sunday and head coach Mick Cronin and athletic director Whit Babcock also addressed the media and fielded questions about the disturbing incident.
My partner Ryan Pence provided his story on the general situation covered in the press conference , but there was also a lot of talk from Cronin and Babcock about the annual meeting with Xavier and the future of the series going forward.
Let me start by saying that as someone who grew up in the Cincinnati area as a huge basketball fan, this game has always meant a lot to me. It was a chance for the city to showcase itself on the national stage in a game that had a lot of meaning to just about everyone in town.
Lately, however, the rivalry has veered off course. There has been at least one, and usually multiple incidents over the last four years that finally came to a head on Saturday. From Kenny Freese head butting Yancy Gates (2008) to Lance Stephenson and Jordan Crawford (2009) almost coming to blows to Tu Holloway punching Ibrahima Thomas (2010) this has been coming for a while now.
The tension in the series has reached a boiling point, and I fully agree with the lead statement head coach Mick Cronin had on the topic today at the press conference.
“This isn’t rocket science,” Cronin said. “If we’re not going to take the floor with each other in an appropriate manner, then there’s no point in taking the floor. It puts people in a bad situation.”
So where does that leave the now tarnished series? In my personal opinion this thing needs a break right now. While I would hate to see it go away for good, does anyone really want to watch the fight over and over again a year from now leading up to the next meeting? What good does that do anyone from either side, and more importantly what does that do to the kids on the floor playing in the game?
If I knew there would be zero issues going forward, sure keep it going. At this point can anyone comfortably say that is the case? Nothing in the recent past shows me otherwise, and Cronin seems to feel the same way.
“I think I was pretty clear on how I feel about the game,” said Cronin. “If it can’t be played the right way, it doesn’t need to be played, whether it’s next year or forever.”
Relationships between the two schools have been damaged across the board, and that is something that isn't going to go away just by marking the game on the schedule for next year and hoping everyone plays nice if things get heated once again.
Some have suggested the best way to move forward is to have the game at a neutral site, which would most likely be US Bank Arena as a way to help alleviate the tension. While that might be the best option available, I am not fully comfortable with the idea that the way to mend fences it to split the arena in half with fans from each side shoulder to shoulder as the action on the floor gets tense.
Is that a better alternative to the Xavier students and fans chanting F--- UC following the fight on Saturday? Maybe, but if they chant it with 8K UC fans in a neutral site setting does anyone honestly feel good with what would happen in the stands as a result? I know I don't.
So now the series is at a crossroads as both programs work through trying to recover from a black eye they imposed on the city. Xavier AD Mike Bobinski has made it clear he has no intentions of halting the series, but new Cincinnati AD Whit Babcock didn't seem so sure in a statement he made today.
“There has been no decision on the game, whether it’s our home game or a neutral site or whether we discontinue the series,” Babcock said. “I’ve talked to Mike Bobinski. If it does continue, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done on the front end to change the culture of that game. It’s not a decision that we take lightly and quite frankly, both Mike and I there were some other more important issues to get to before that. But we’re well aware that’s a discussion that needs to take place.”
When that conversation takes place, figuring out how to change the toxic nature of what we saw unfold in the closing seconds late in the game has to be issue number one. This isn't a one-time dust up that got out of hand, it is the culmination of bad blood between the two programs spilling out on the floor both figuratively and literally over the last four years.
Can you reverse something like that behind closed doors in a meeting between athletic directors? While I think both men are very good at their jobs, I just don't know if what this has become can be cleaned up in an office between suits.
At this point I fully feel that there has to be at least a two-year hiatus on the game. In the near future playing one another is not going to do anyone involved any good after the events of Saturday afternoon. Allow both sides to move on for a while and if there is a firm bridge built going forward then you can look to resume the rivalry down the road.