Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour is throwing a big, fat air ball by not disciplining coach Mike Montgomery for shoving Allen Crabbe during Sunday’s basketball game against USC.
UC Berkeley is recognized around the world for being a progressive, forward-thinking institution, but Barbour’s inaction on this matter suggests that the athletic department is stuck in the past.
As inappropriate as Montgomery’s behavior was, it’s the university’s response — or lack thereof — in the aftermath that really leaves you scratching your head.
Montgomery is certainly one of college basketball’s greatest coaches, and this incident doesn’t negate his contributions to the game in 30-plus years on the sideline. Everyone makes mistakes, and he’s showing sincere regret about how he handled himself Sunday.
Still, Barbour needed to issue a one-game suspension to make it clear that physical aggression toward student-athletes, however minor it may seem, is not tolerated on the Berkeley campus.
By giving Montgomery a pass, the university is, in essence, reinforcing the idea that athletics operates in its own sphere apart from the rest of the academic institution.
What would happen to an English professor who lost his temper in class and shoved a student in front of 30 or 40 onlookers? Would the department chair simply send out an email reprimanding the behavior? Or would the professor be disciplined and temporarily removed from the classroom?
Unfortunately, this style of motivation is embedded in the culture of sports. It’s celebrated for building mental toughness, turning boys into men.
Just listen to Montgomery’s initial postgame comments. After the clock expired, did he reflect on his behavior and express regret? No. He said: “Worked, didn’t it?”
After the altercation, Cal rallied back from a double-digit deficit to beat USC; even TV announcers, Steve Physioc and Marques Johnson, credited the physical confrontation for sparking the stirring comeback.
“What a marvelous job,” Physioc said. “Since that moment ... it’s been a totally different California team.”
Johnson concurred: “You might not agree with the way he tried to get his point across, but the point was received.”
This response is precisely why the university needs to make a strong statement. Calmer, more rational methods of motivation do exist, and a world-renowned institution like Cal should be at the forefront of pushing the conversation into the 21st century.
John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski and Phil Jackson are arguably the three best basketball coaches of all time, and I can’t remember any of them behaving in this manner to jump-start their players.
But Barbour clearly isn’t on board with the idea that Cal must set a higher standard. Instead of using the story as an opportunity to show what Cal stands for, she waited nearly two hours to issue a statement at 11:54 p.m. on Sunday and then simply acknowledged that the altercation was “inappropriate” and promised that it would “not happen again.”
Barbour says all the right things about what student athletics mean at Cal when she’s at the podium, but words are just words if you aren’t willing to shoot the ball when you get a wide-open look.
Paul Gackle is a regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner and also writes at www.gacklereport.com. He can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @GackleReport.