Ron Cook: March madness starts early


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Did somebody say March Madness?

Fans at South Carolina, Virginia and Oklahoma State did what fans never should do, storming the court after a big win, putting themselves, players and coaches in danger. Kentucky coach John Calipari went out of his mind, took two technical fouls and was ejected from a game at South Carolina. Veteran referee Ted Valentine embarrassed himself and his profession by going out of his way to provoke a confrontation with Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin in a game against Connecticut.

All of it happened Saturday.

March 1.

Makes you wonder what the rest of the month will bring, doesn’t it?

Actually, it’s not really funny.

It’s frightening, even dangerous.

The craziness in college basketball has been going on all season. Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie was thrown out of a game against Louisville for getting two technical fouls after leaving the coaching box to argue a call. That was nothing compared to what Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim did late in a game at Duke. He went berserk after a charge call went against his team, ran on the floor like a madman, took two technicals and was tossed. Boeheim is lucky he’s Boeheim — a Hall of Famer and the second-winningest coach in major-college basketball history — and can get away with just about anything. He should have been suspended by the ACC, his actions were so over-the-top.

Cronin mentioned the double standard that exists for coaches with referees after Cincinnati’s 51-45 loss to Connecticut. Valentine escalated the argument with Cronin Saturday by jumping in Cronin’s face. “Nobody gets in Jim Boeheim’s face or [Duke coach] Mike Krzyzewski’s face,” Cronin said.

Valentine’s actions were officiating at its worst. Good officials know when to walk away from an argument or to call a technical foul. They never should be the aggressor.

“He got in my face, I didn’t get in his face,” Cronin said. “Am I allowed to ‘T’ him? That’s what I asked him.”

If coaches and players are going to be disciplined, why not a referee? Valentine should be suspended.

Oklahoma State star Marcus Smart knows all about punishment. He was suspended for three games after pushing a heckling fan near the end of a loss at Texas Tech. The guy Smart shoved was a grown man — a real jerk — but that’s beside the point. Players have no business under any circumstances going into the stands. The results can be horrific. Go to YouTube and type in “Malice at the Palace” for more proof.

But fans also have no right to rush the court, no matter how big the win. They don’t belong in any playing area at any time and can’t be protected there. You even can argue they deserve what they get when they go on the court or field. Who felt sorry for the Cleveland Browns fan who went on the field at Cleveland Stadium and was bodyslammed by Steelers linebacker James Harrison?

There was an ugly incident Thursday night after Utah Valley fans rushed the court after a 66-61 overtime win against New Mexico State. The chaos began when New Mexico State player K.C. Ross-Miller threw the ball at Utah Valley’s Holton Hunsaker as the game ended. Miller was suspended — justifiably — for two games by the Western Athletic Conference. But just because a player was wrong doesn’t mean it was right for the fans to be on the floor. At least one punch was thrown by a New Mexico State player in the subsequent melee. Someone could have been seriously hurt.

Krzyzewski warned about the dangers of this sort of thing a few years ago.

“It’s not all fun and games when people are rushing the court, especially for the team that lost. The potential is there all the time for a fan to just go up to you and say, ‘Coach, you’re a [expletive],’ or push you or hit you. And what do you do? What if you did something?”

The Southeastern Conference gets it. It’s at least trying to stop fans from going on the court by fining the home school when it happens. The first offense is $5,000, the second $25,000 and the third $50,000. You can bet South Carolina will be fined for its fans being on the court after its 72-67 win against Kentucky.

It is possible for schools to control their crowd.

The atmosphere at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center usually is electric and raucous, but when is the last time you saw the fans storm the court?

Pitt has won big and won often for more than a decade.

It also has won with class.


Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the “Cook and Poni” show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.

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