It got Woody Hayes. It got Bobby Knight. If it can get the legends, it can get Mike Montgomery. You don't put your hands on a kid.
But really, come on.
We're supposed to be outraged by this one?
Big-time college athletics is sick. We know that. But this one was not part of the sickness. On the growing list of NCAA lies, betrayals, and hypocrisies, Mike Montgomery's kerfuffle with Allen Crabbe is a trifle. It's petty stuff. It's jock itch in a time of cholera.
Montgomery, the University of California at Berkeley basketball coach, shoved Crabbe. He was angry. His team was losing. The kid was his best player and he was sleepwalking. The coach called timeout, came at the kid, put both hands on his chest, jacked him up. A quick jab, done. Then words were said, delicate brows were furrowed, and pouting ensued. A teammate, Richard Solomon, grabbed Crabbe by the jersey; another, Justin Cobbs, took him aside for a cooling-off walk-around. Montgomery sat Crabbe on the bench for all of 12 seconds before sending him back into the game.
In the Twitterverse, on the highlight shows, in the newspapers, Montgomery came off as a bad, bad man. A San Jose Mercury News columnist wrote, "Thousands witnessed it live, and millions more around the globe have seen it or will see it in the coming days." He called it "a sad moment, a shameful episode, a regrettable incident." The next day, another Mercury News columnist noted Crabbe's restrained reaction and subsequent brilliance of play. He wrote, "And all that saved Montgomery. For now."
The cold truth of big-time college basketball is that it's not the shoving that could get Montgomery fired. It's the losing, and it's not even the losing. It's the not making money. Big-time basketball schools long ago got mostly out of the business of academics. It's professional sports now, and coaches get fired if they don't get their schools more than their fair share of the NCAA television treasure. So Montgomery, with his team on the bubble and losing to Southern Cal, jacked up Allen Crabbe.
The kid is a stud, maybe the best player in the Pac-12, a guard scoring 19.8 points a game. He's 20 years old, 6-foot-6, 210 pounds. The coach is older, shorter, fleshier. He does have wonderful hair. It's gray. On his birthday this week, Mike Montgomery is 66. At the moment of the coach-player confrontation, Cal was losing to Southern Cal, 44-32. In the next 16 minutes, 31 seconds, Cal rallied to win, 76-68. Crabbe scored 10 of his game-high 23 points in the last four minutes. Afterwards, Montgomery cracked wise about that moment with Crabbe. He said, "It worked, didn't it?"
If a touch too glib - the coach even said he'd do it again -- Montgomery's line came with the virtue of truth. "We were standing around," he told reporters. "... Allen had come down twice and went to the wrong side of the court, and his guy shot two threes and I was trying to get him going. What got over-exaggerated was everybody jumping up and grabbing ahold of him like it was a big deal. Probably overdid it a little bit but Allen is my guy. I need him to be going. We can't win if he's not ready to play ... Late, he got blocks and rebounds and he was shooting the ball in. Mentally, he just needed a wake-up call."
Crabbe said as much himself. "It was just coach's way of motivating me. It was just a spur of the moment emotional game and he was trying to motivate me. It's water under the bridge. He's my coach, and there are no hard feelings. I've just got to leave it at that. It motivated me. Justin and Richard came over and just told me to keep my head in the game, we are family, and we have got to stay in there together."
To make a big deal out of this is to pretend that big-time college basketball is part of the educational system. Thus, the laughable official statements. Cal's athletic director Sandy Barbour said it's "unacceptable for our coaches to have physical contact with student-athletes." Montgomery said he meant only to "motivate our student-athletes" and apologized for behavior that he called "inappropriate." From atop one of the NCAA's high horses trotted out for such occasions, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott reprimanded Montgomery and said his league's coaches "must be aware that they are an example to student-athletes and other students, and consistent with this influence and visibility, must meet a particularly high standard."
Earlier this season, Morehead State's coach, Sean Woods, was suspended for a game after apparently shoving one of his players late in a loss to Kentucky. The school's athletic director, Brian Hutchinson, said the suspension would give Woods time "to contemplate the appropriate way to conduct himself with his players and on the sideline. We recognize that the young men in our basketball program are students first and athletes second. It is our expectation that our coaches are first teachers, who reflect the core values of the university ..."
Oh, stop it. You're killing me.
It's a crock the way these people are all going on about "student-athletes." If the NCAA were an honorable association truly respecting the athletes as students, the players would have four-year scholarships, not one-year revocable-at-a-coach's-whim deals. They'd have five or six years to graduate, like most students. They'd have money waiting for them upon graduation in the form of a trust fund holding their fair share of the monies earned by their teams.
But that's not the world as created by the NCAA pooh-bahs. Theirs is a world of professional sports masquerading as amateur athletics. So however indignant the Cal athletic director wants to sound, whatever penalty the Pac-12 might bring down on Montgomery, the real-world truth is they're glad when these brouhahas come along. They're diversions that take our minds off the real abuses of college athletes.