2211...
TGS SPECIAL REPORT...IT WAS A WILD, WILD NIGHT IN LUBBOCK
by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor


We'll get to the latest Bracketology report in a moment. First, however, a couple of notes on what transpired last weekend...at Lubbock in particular.

For a variety of reasons, it is a shame we have to talk about the Marcus Smart (vs. Texas Tech fan Jeff Orr) incident in the final seconds of the game. That's partly because it detracted from a marvelous contest and a heroic effort put forth by Tubby Smith's much-improved Red Raider side, which answered every Cowboy challenge and then made the big plays in the last minute to notch a pulsating 65-61 win.

The incident involving Smart, however, overshadowed the game. And we must admit to a sigh of relief at developments the following day, when Smart accepted his three-game suspension with plenty of contrition. Not to mention the media recoiling from the story after being prepared to strike had evidence surfaced regarding commentary from Orr other than what eventually transpired.

Our problem with the incident, however, had more to do with the initial coverage of the events. Few on ESPN, other than Adrian Branch and Dino Gaudio, were willing to condemn Smart's actions for shoving a fan (Orr). Others, including Andy Katz, danced around the issue and simply refused to judge until finding out what exactly was said to Smart by the fan.

Predictably, reports eventually surfaced on some social media outlets of a racial slur being directed at Smart. Which, predictably again, turned out not to be true (the fan, Orr, did admit to some harsh comments, though hardly the worst we have heard from spectators...try 15 minutes at a Philadelphia Eagles game and you'll see what we mean)..

Mostly, however, we took issue with Katz and others for not putting the Smart situation in its proper context by mentioning the real dangers of getting fans involved in any sort of confrontation with players. While memories of Ron (Metta World Peace) Artest's adventure into the stands in Auburn Hills from almost ten years ago remain fresh in the minds of many, any college basketball insider on ESPN or elsewhere ought to be able to quickly cite the dangers of crowd involvement by recalling events of the infamous Ohio State-Minnesota brawl in 1972. Which was perhaps the ugliest and most-dangerous situation we recall in all of college hoops history (perhaps even American sports history, certainly during our TGS publishing years since 1957) because of an unruly crowd that became part of the mayhem that night at Williams Arena, when it was fortunate that Ohio State's Luke Witte (who was rushed to the hospital) and other Buckeyes avoided more seriously injury. And, especially in Witte's case, coming out alive.

True, there are a couple of distinctions that need to be made regarding the Artest incident from November of 2004, and the Ohio State-Minnesota melee. In the former, it was Artest and the on-court fight spilling into the stands and eventually involving spectators. It was the opposite in Ohio State-Minnesota; the attack (it wasn't really a fight), instigated by the Gophers' Corky Taylor, started on the floor, and the fans then came onto the court to cause, in effect, a small-scale riot.

The bottom line is that there are unknown dangers to all when fans ever become involved in such situations with players, and such disturbances must be avoided at all costs.

Thankfully, the Smart incident did not escalate quite that far, but it came dangerously close. Partly because Smart was not hustled into the dressing room immediately after the incident. Emotions were raw and fever-pitched at the end of the game, and Smart was still clearly agitated as he stewed on the sideline in the final seconds of the contest. With the celebrating Texas Tech fans about to storm the court, the potential for another flash-point and an uncontrolled melee were barely averted by a few quick-thinking Ok State players and aides who got between a still-angered Smart and the approaching mob and kept him away from the fans as best they could until Smart, with escort, could be hurriedly routed to the Ok State locker room. A scene that might have been reminiscent of a Central American soccer riot was barely averted.

A subsequent communication from the Big 12, failing to condemn the referees for not banishing Smart to the locker room earlier, was justifiably derided by only Adrian Branch among the ESPN analysts. Again, predictably, the first reaction among the governing body (Big 12) was to circle the wagons.

The scary truth is that large crowds can be extremely dangerous, and under no circumstance should a player ever get involved with a fan, and certainly not in the manner of Smart's actions, regardless of what might have been said, to potentially incite the masses. If commentary from the crowd is inappropriate, it can be dealt with in manners other than starting a potential melee that could escalate into an Ohio State-Minnesota '72 situation...or worse (as we note below). Offending parties can be quickly identified and dealt with in such instances at a stadium or arena. But more potentially harmful are the gutless and lame explanations offered by the likes of Andy Katz and others, who, by extension of their initial commentary, did not preclude that there might have been some justification to going into the crowd because of something that was said.

NO! Such commentary by analysts is simply dangerous and borderline irresponsible. Rule one, two, and three for athletes is to never go in the stands, whether Katz and some of the other commentators on ESPN and elsewhere want to admit or not.

Anyone who has ever seen the mayhem that can be caused by a large crowd would have to realize the potential dangers. Though circumstances were not exactly the same, there are some parallels to the examples that have taken place in Euro soccer at Heysel Stadium (in Brussels, during the 1985 European Cup final between Juventus and Liverpool) and Hillsborough (Sheffield, England, for an FA Cup match in 1989) in the '80s, and the carnage that ensued (try hundreds of casualties), underlining grave dangers that are caused by, first, an agitated mob, and second, too many people in a limited amount of space.

Situations in a jam-packed basketball arena, like Lubbock's United Spirit Arena (nice as it is) last Saturday, are not terribly different. And getting a highly-emotional crowd involved in a melee with players always threatens to have catastrophic consequences.

Some of those elements were present at the end of the Ok State-Texas Tech game. We were darned lucky something worse didn't transpire in Lubbock last Saturday night.

(In the meantime, on our website this week, as a reminder about such dangers, we are going to re-post a story we presented a few years ago recalling that scary night in Minneapolis in 1972. At the time we wrote the piece, we were responding to another incident involving Xavier and Cincinnati in 2011 that also came dangerously close to recalling Ohio State-Minnesota in 1972.)


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