When the University of North Dakota let a late three-point lead slip away against Northern Arizona as a result of four missed free throws and two turnovers in the final three minutes of regulation, play-by-play announcer Paul Ralston took the loss hard.
In an interview with North Dakota coach Brian Jones right after Saturday's game, Ralston called the 74-72 overtime loss a "choke job," a phrase that apparently did not sit well with either the coach or with university officials.
Athletic director Brian Faison announced this week that Ralston has been suspended from his play-by-play duties for North Dakota's next two games, the Grand Forks Herald first reported. Ralston will not call North Dakota's game at Northern Colorado on Wednesday night, nor will he call the team's Bracketbusters matchup at Nebraska-Omaha on Saturday.
Outcry over the story has largely come in support of Ralston because the penalty seems unjustly harsh for such common criticism. The university wouldn't be receiving this spate of bad publicity had it merely allowed Ralston to apologize to Jones behind closed doors rather than taking him off the road this week.
At the same time, Ralston clearly erred using the phrase "choke job" in a conversation with a coach minutes after a loss.
Most independent reporters would be tactful enough to describe a loss like that in softer terms when interviewing players or coaches immediately afterward. An announcer who receives his paychecks from the school he covers has to be even more careful.
On one hand, Ralston owes it to his audience to be as honest as possible calling the games. On the other hand, he has to be especially conscientious about criticizing players and coaches since most employers don't take harsh criticism from an employee very well.
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