Behavior in college basketball

I heard an interesting discussion on ESPN’s Outside the Lines earlier today about the sideline antics of college basketball coaches.

This season, we’ve seen several outbursts, the most notable of which came from Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim

Referee Ted Valentine (left) and Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin go at it during a game Saturday.

Referee Ted Valentine (left) and Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin go at it during a game Saturday.

during a loss to Duke. Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin had a run-in with official Ted Valentine over the weekend that also received a lot of publicity. There have been numerous others.

The journalists on the ESPN panel, Dana O’Neil and Andy Katz, represented a side of the debate that called for calmer heads to prevail and encouraged college basketball conferences and the NCAA to take a harder line on Coaches Gone Crazy.

Meanwhile, the former coaches on the panel, Seth Greenberg and Dan Dakich, defended the coaches and were almost dismissive of the claims and points made by the journalists. At one point, Katz had to remind Dakich that he was now a journalist, being paid by ESPN.

It was a fascinating debate.

It’s distasteful to me the way some coaches and fans react to questionable calls at college basketball games. Then again, I have always felt that way.

Then again, as a coach of a summer league baseball team 15 or so years ago – and that’s not even close to being on the same level as high stakes Division I college basketball – I was at times excitable, let’s say. So I’m not preaching from Mount High when I call the behavior of college basketball coaches, at times, questionable.

I love the pre-game handshake between coaches and the officials who soon will be making them pull their hair out. I wish I had a recording of everything that was said in those friendly pre-game meetings; it would fly off the shelves.

Questioning calls made by officials is as old as sports. And it will continue for however long sports exist.

Going bonkers over calls by ripping off jackets, rushing onto the floor and spinning into some wild gyration of irritation – there should be a song called Wild Gyration of Irritation – is something else.

I watch fans follow the lead of the coach at most of the games I attend. You would think that the guys in the black and white stripes were desperate criminals by the way they’re taunted and treated by the paying public. And, again, that comes with the price of the ticket. Fans are entitled to get after the refs. But at what point do they go too far?

I’m not writing here about any particular coach or group of fans. Obviously, I see more Wichita State basketball games than I do others. I see Kansas and Kansas State a lot, too. And there’s no difference. Coaches and fans are pretty much the same everywhere.

Perhaps those of us who are journalists just aren’t meant to understand this. What a shock, huh? Journalists not understanding.

We are trained to be unbiased. So the true journalists among us – and at games it’s becoming harder and harder to pick them out of the “media” crowd – undoubtedly react more harshly to incivility than those in the general public. We’re not root, root, rooting for the home team, so our emotional distance from the proceedings allows us a different viewpoint.

I think that’s why O’Neil and Katz saw this issue so differently than did Greenberg and Dakich. The ex-coaches relate to the current coaches. Their blood still boils, I presume, when bad calls are made. It probably doesn’t take much for them to slip back into their old skin, at least emotionally, as a college basketball coach.

The journalists were more measured. More detached. We struggle to understand how coaches can go so bonkers and how fans can be so, well, fanatic.

We journalists come from a different world. It’s not that we’re above the fray, it’s that we’re removed from the fray. Try as we might, we just can’t summon the crazed disdain that comes with being a fan. And in some cases, with being a coach.

So when hundreds of fans stand up at a college basketball game and viciously berate an official, I’m looking at a scene from a world that doesn’t make sense.

But it’s not my world. It’s your world. My world is quieter.