The "Crosstown Punchout" was followed by a "Crosstown Copout." Quite a weekend in the Queen City.
On the day after their basketball teams lost all self-control and sullied the reputations of their universities in the annual "Crosstown Shootout" game, the schools came back 24 hours later with punishments that further diminished the two. They took one of the worst on-court episodes in recent history and basically brushed it off with soft suspensions and hollow words.
Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin won a lot of admirers with his tough, impassioned and seemingly high-minded rhetoric Saturday after the disgraceful behavior by his players in their late-game brawl with Xavier. Then Cronin and his bosses cravenly backed down, suspending three players for six games and a fourth for a single game.
Cincinnati's Yancy Gates dropped an unsuspecting Kenny Frease with a sucker punch to the face, then punched another player, then tried like heck to go after several more but was restrained. He got only six games. If I were a Cincinnati alum, I wouldn't want to see him wear the school uniform again. If I were a Cincinnati prosecutor, I'd consider filing assault charges.
Teammate Cheikh Mbodj, seen on videotape attempting to stomp on Frease as he was on the floor, also got six games. He should sit the rest of the season.
Octavius Ellis also was docked six games, and Ge’Lawn Guyn got one. No Bearcat will miss more than one Big East game.
Cronin told the Sporting News on Sunday that in order to return to the team, the players will have to issue public apologies and perform community service in addition to their games missed, but that's insubstantial PR. The suspensions are what matter, and they're pathetically light.
After looking across town and seeing Cincinnati caving, Xavier acted later Sunday afternoon with similar softness. The Musketeers' brass announced that they will sit Dez Wells and Landen Amos for four games, Mark Lyons for two games and Tu Holloway for one.
Naturally, both the Big East and Atlantic 10 offices signed off on the suspensions without adding penalties. The college athletic leadership void continues at the conference level, where commissioners only seem interested in raiding other leagues and securing maximum TV loot.
In looking at the videotape of the brawl, the Xavier players appeared less culpable for the flying fists. But everyone agreed that Holloway was a prime instigator with his mouth, talking trash to the Cincinnati bench late in a blowout Xavier victory. Heck, Holloway himself acknowledged it in an unapologetic postgame interview that only made him look like an idiot.
"We're grown men out there," Holloway said, clearly misidentifying what constitutes manhood. "We've got a whole bunch of gangsters in that locker room. Not thugs, but tough guys out on the court."
I'll have to check Jesuit teachings and traditions to see where gangsters fit into the grand educational plan at Xavier. But after helping incite a brawl, then making incredibly foolish statements, Holloway only will sit out against Oral Roberts next Sunday. Merry Christmas, Tu.
It's probably worth mentioning that Gates is Cincinnati's best player and Holloway is Xavier's best player. I'm sure those facts never entered into the decision-making process for the coaches and school administrators.
There is a long and ignoble history of university leaders failing to step up and punish star athletes. This isn't the first and won't be the last, but it ranks among the most disappointing.
For one thing, this was a truly terrible episode that was caught on national TV. The rivalry has been extremely intense, and I've attended more than one Cincinnati-Xavier game that included at least one physical altercation. But there never has been anything in the rivalry like this. It was "Malice in the Palace" without spilling into the stands. It was a LeGarrette Blount assault without shoulder pads and helmets involved.
Coincidentally, the punishments in those infamous outbreaks of violence were severe: Ron Artest sat for the majority of an 82-game NBA season in the former; Blount missed 10 college football games in the latter.
Last season, BYU was 27-2 and ranked in the top five in the country when it suspended No. 3 scorer and leading rebounder Brandon Davies for the rest of the season. His offense wouldn't have cost a player five minutes of playing time at virtually any other university – but at BYU it violated the school's Code of Conduct.
The university did not flinch, no matter what damage was done to the most promising season in school history. It was not going to bend its principles to conform to the needs of the basketball team.
In the city of Cincinnati, they don't operate that way. They talk tough one day, then roll over the next.
That's the other part of the disappointing nature of these suspensions. Cronin gave accurate voice to how a lot of us felt watching it at home Saturday: He was outraged and revolted. His emotion seemed genuine. Among his memorable quotes:
• "The fact is, guys are here to get an education. They represent institutions of higher learning. Xavier has been a great school for years. We are trying to cure cancer at Cincinnati. I go to school at a place where they discovered the vaccine for polio and created Benadryl. I think that's more important than who wins a basketball game."
• "If my players don't act the right way, they will never play another game at Cincinnati. I just told my guys, I'm going to meet with my AD and my president, and I'm going to decide who's on the team going forward. That's what the University of Cincinnati's about, period. I've never been more embarrassed."
• "I made everybody take their jersey off, and they will not put it on again until they have a full understanding of where they go to school and what the university stands for and how lucky they are to even be there, let alone have a scholarship, because there's a whole lot of kids that can't pay for college and don't get to go to school."
Cronin talked the talk. Then he and his bosses declined to walk the walk.
A few hours after Cincinnati and Xavier disgraced their sport and their schools, I attended another extremely intense rivalry game – Kentucky at Indiana. The atmosphere was as loud and as charged as any I've seen. The players competed at an incredibly high level.
And guess what? There wasn't a single problem. I didn't see anyone get into the face of an opponent. I didn't see anyone bark at the other team's bench. And I sure didn't see any players throw punches.
The Wildcats and Hoosiers were winners Saturday. Xavier and Cincinnati were losers.
Then the schools came back and lost again Sunday in a Crosstown Copout.
Other popular stories on Yahoo! Sports:
• Robert Griffin III wins first-ever Heisman Trophy for Baylor
• Passan: Ryan Braun guilty of hurting game but should remain NL MVP
• Lakers end trade talks for Chris Paul, set sights on Dwight Howard