Thankfully, Cincinnati-Xavier brawl an isolated incident

The apology was followed by tears. It usually is. Nothing creates a hefty dose of remorse like the fear of losing what matters most to you.

Yancy Gates was scared that it all would be taken away, that his college basketball career was over, that his decision to act the part of thug would ultimately cost him ever again wearing a Cincinnati jersey.

It didn’t. You can debate forever if it should.

Just don’t accept the idea that a game-ending fracas between the Bearcats and Xavier on Saturday was anything born of a bigger issue in sports.

Thousands of college basketball games are played annually and nearly every one survives without benches clearing and sucker-punches being thrown and heads being kicked.

There is a reason the fight has drawn such national attention.

It just doesn’t happen much.

Coaches should be able to preach toughness and physicality and aggressive play and not be worried it will lead to an ugly, reprehensible, bloody scene. Most can.

Rivalry games should be able to exist with an edge and yet not under a cloud of panic that at any moment chaos will occur. Most do.

What happened Saturday is no more indicative of a greater problem in college sports than consuming one doughnut a year means you have an eating disorder.

You have to realize Cincinnati-Xavier is a backyard brawl that should have never, well, escalated to an on-court brawl. The schools sit 10 miles apart in the same city. There might not be a more intense rivalry across college hoops. Coaches have refused to shake hands after games some years. The hype begins and the fire is fueled weeks before tipoff.

Players from both teams know each other, have competed against each other for years and want more than anything else to own bragging rights throughout the summer.

This isn’t UNLV-UNR. This mess doesn’t happen Saturday if Xavier is playing Ohio.

“The two schools are so close (in proximity) and compete for the same social scene, but they have completely different student bodies,” Kansas State coach Frank Martin, an assistant at Cincinnati from 2004 to 2006, told ESPN.

“It’s a rivalry that’s deeper than the game. But there’s no place for that. We have to preach to our guys to never cross the line and that toughness on the street is a different world than toughness in education.”

The punch Gates threw to the face of Xavier player Kenny Frease wasn’t tough at all. It was cowardly, heaved from the blindside. The kick to Frease’s head by Cincinnati player Cheikh Mbodj wasn’t tough. It was just as spineless, intending to cause damage to a defenseless opponent slouched on the court.

The actions and words displayed by Xavier players such as guard Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons weren’t tough. They were uneducated, ignorant, senseless.

That an Ohio prosecutor is considering criminal charges as a response to the brawl is neither surprising nor wrong. Gates wouldn’t be at a news conference proclaiming his deep regret and covering his face to conceal tears had he thrown such a punch on the street. He probably would be in jail awaiting arraignment on assault.

But none of it — the fight, the soft penalties in terms of game suspensions, the assorted apologies from players and coaches and athletic directors, the countless YouTube videos now replaying the scene and some, pathetically, even celebrating it — makes the incident any larger outside the circle in which it happened.

There is no fault to assign anyone beyond those directly involved. Moments like this occur and the popular response is to begin searching for a bigger picture, a broader reason for why, an avenue that might somehow condemn all violence in sports for the actions of few.

That shouldn’t happen in this case.

“We offer no excuses,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “I’ve always been a big believer in ‘To the victor goes the spoils.’ They won the game and weren’t able to enjoy the victory because of what happened in the aftermath, and that is really unfortunate. … To our university, our fans, our alumni, we let you down and we’re sorry.”

This was about a whole lot of bad decisions that led to a bad thing, about an intense rivalry crossing a line of which there is no place in college sports, about two schools 10 miles apart with a profound history in disliking each other on the court.

To make it any more would be casting blame at places not warranted.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday on “Monsters of the Midday,” Fox Sports Radio 920 AM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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