Commentary: Why?

In my time from 2001 to this past May covering the Clemson University athletic program for The Tiger student newspaper, I was an avid supporter of all things Clemson.

In fact, I constantly received mail and comments from Clemson students and fans that accused me of a larger pro-administration bias than Fox News Channel was accused of during the election campaign. However, during that time I believed in the decisions made were correct and had no problem defending those decisions and the direction of the athletic program against the constantly wavering opinions that seem to dominate the student body (and large majority of the fan base).

In a decision made just over 48 hours following the events that transpired in Death Valley on Saturday, my opinions changed. The decision made by AD Terry Don Phillips and President James Barker in cooperation with the University of South Carolina was nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction that was influenced more by what took place in Detroit, Michigan on Friday night than on the football field on Saturday. Now, the majority of players on both teams and college football fans across the state of South Carolina must suffer the punishment for the inappropriate actions of a handful of players on each team.

There are two arguments that can be made against the decision made yesterday. I want to present both of them to you because each has valid points. The first argument is one that many, especially those in the media, don't dare to wonder aloud: does this extremely harsh punishment honestly fit the crime? I know that the timing of the entire course of events cannot be changed, but how many people out there really think that this type of punishment would even be considered if not for the events that occurred between the Detroit Pistons fans and the Indiana Pacers players. Would Clemson's fight been part of the lead story Saturday night on NBC Nightly News if the ruckus in Detroit did not exist as the main part of the story.

Like it or not, football is a physical sport.

Occasionally tempers can flare and fights will ensue. Anyone who has played football on any level can probably remember being a part of a physical altercation, whether it was in a game or on the practice fields. Now combine that with the rivalry that exists between Clemson and South Carolina, one which Phillips referred to just last week as one of the most intense in America. A rivalry so intense that it resulted in two consecutive nights of riots between fans at the state fairgrounds in 1902. These players are taught to hate the other school, despise the opposing players and kill the opposing team every November. Is an on-field ruckus really that much of a surprise?

Similar rivalries have seen similar displays on the football field over the years, as recent as the Florida-Florida State game just one year ago. That does not in any way condone the actions of either team, but it should have provided leaders of the two state universities guidelines for the appropriate actions that should be taken. Suspending both entire teams and their fans from the postseason has not even been an option in these earlier situations. So how suddenly has it become such an easily chosen option?

There is one other question that can be raised in this argument, are the players really the only ones responsible for what occurred on the field on Saturday? Since fighting and football will be forever linked, how is it that more fights don't break out in games? The simple answer is that officials usually hold tempers in check. By calling penalties that cost a team for acting out of line, players are kept in check by their teammates and coaches. On Saturday the referees seemed almost nonexistent. Out of line behavior was treated by sideline warnings but no action. The men in striped-shirts fumbled for their whistles after the game was already decided allowing Reggie Merriweather a few extra yards and players on both teams a few extra cheap shots. Yet neither school has commented on the referees and the ACC has not chosen to reprimand them either. To these men just get off scot-free while the entire state is forced to suffer?

In the 1902 game mentioned above, the referees assigned to work were unable to reach Columbia because of a train wreck in Furman that delayed their trip. According to legend, the Furman coach was forced to officiate the game by himself and did not throw a flag during the entire contest. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

Now, as I said, there are two different arguments against the decision that ruined holiday plans for many Tiger fans and it concerns that very fact. Even if the fight warrants extreme action to be taken in light of the terrible ordeal occurring on Friday night, why must everyone be punished? I am as upset as the next person with the negative image that this situation has given Clemson University, a place that I love with all of my heart. For that very reason I am furious that our administration has chosen to punish everyone associated with the university, which says to me that we are no better than the few who acted out of control on Saturday afternoon.

Our administration has chosen to treat this situation similar to my second-grade teacher. In her class, if anyone acted out and disrupted other from learning, the entire class would have to stay in the room during recess. The problem with that logic is it simply doesn't work. The people who act out don't really lose out on anything. The rest of the class has not done anything wrong. Yet the entire class is forced to sit inside for the actions of those few.

I have been involved with many teams in my short life and I can tell you that the situation above does nothing to help team unity. That type of punishment causes the innocent to resent the guilty. A team cannot grow from that type of situation but instead tears the individuals apart. In the official press release, President Barker said that the university would not take further action against the players involved. So in the end, the player that was trying to help break things up is treated them same as the player that was throwing punches. The fans that stayed out of the situation, even after the incident in Detroit, get punished like the player breaking away from the police. For an institution of higher learning, this logic still just seems dumb.

If the university truly wanted to take a strong stand against what happened on the field on Saturday, Monday's press conference would have stated that university officials were reviewing the film with local authorities and anyone found engaging in criminal acts would be dismissed from the school. Any other player found to be not representing the school as he is expected would be prevented from doing so again for an extended period of time. There are a ton of other people who go out to football practice and represent Clemson well every day. I'm sure those men would have been forever appreciative of the chance to dress out in a bowl game and be recognized for their continual positive contributions. Clemson had the chance to stand up and say we are better than these few who acted out of line on Saturday afternoon. Instead, it appears we are all guilty.

One way or the other, the administration could have addressed this topic in a better manner. Either what was done on the field was an irreprehensible act by a few young men that failed in their pledge to represent Clemson University as students, alumni and the administration expects or it was an unfortunate incident that occurred in a moment of passion in a heated rivalry and has been taken out of context due to a separate incident 1000 miles away. Unfortunately instead of taking a stand in one way or another, the heads of the Clemson family quickly jumped on this third option that has left the rest of the family confused and unfulfilled.

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