By Bryan Fulford | February 8, 2020

On the day when many in America were celebrating National Girls and Women in Sports Day, the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) was disciplining two of its women’s basketball teams for unsportsmanlike behavior at the end of a conference game.

At the conclusion of the Texas Southern – Alabama State game, presumably during the postgame handshake line, a scuffle turned into a fist-throwing, pushing-shoving-grabbing and wrestling royale that went from center court to the bench chairs and scorer’s table.  The Tigers won the contest over the hosting Hornets 81-54, but the image of basketball…women’s basketball… and maybe black college student-athletes took a loss worse than any outcome on the scoreboard.

Details on what was said to whom – when and why this happened are as unclear, as it was so surprising that the incident did not go more viral with local, regional and national outlets showing the video clips from the various angles of those in attendance.  I don’t exactly recall how I came across a pair of videos on Twitter that captured the ugliness of this event, but upon seeing it I just KNEW it would be all over the Twitterverse.

It was just a couple of weeks ago that the University of Kansas and Kansas State men’s basketball teams got into their own scuffle at the close of their game, which spilled into the crowd sitting along the baseline and saw four players be suspended a total of 25 games (one player was benched for 12 games). But, I was wrong. It wasn’t all over social media.

Maybe “we” missed it because it was the Monday after the Super Bowl. Maybe it’s because it was a women’s basketball game that might have only been watched online via Alabama State’s website. Maybe we intentionally missed it out of embarrassment and instantly went into “hush mode” protect the young women who clearly were not in their right frame of mind as the incident occurred.

In full transparency, the Black College Sports Network (BCSN) made an editorial decision to not show the videos of the fight from our twitter account. From my personal twitter account, I did share the video, two different angles, and expressed my disappointment, hopes that the schools and conference would respond and act swiftly, and speculated that the suspensions could be severe for both teams.

I was wrong, again.

As of 9 am EST, nearly 12 hours after the game, neither the conference nor teams had made a statement on the incident. The SWAC released a statement to the BCSN by 10:30 am.

“The Southwestern Athletic Conference has a zero tolerance policy regarding unsportsmanlike conduct. The Conference Office will review all relevant information and will take appropriate action once the review is completed.”

A statement from Texas Southern’s Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics, Kevin Granger came about a little over an hour later. And the response from Alabama State’s athletic director, Jennifer Lynne Williams and President Quinton T. Ross, Jr. came a couple of hours later.  While both sides expressed apologies and disappointment, to which I think were sincere, I was honestly surprised it took so long make them. Given the violence shown in the video, I would have thought lengthy late-night discussions about the incident should have crafted a response that went out at 9 am sharp.

Maybe it was because it was a women’s basketball game. Maybe it was because it wasn’t widely viewed online or television.  Maybe it was because it had not gone viral by 9 am.

Regardless of the timing of the response, the time spent trying to identify the players involved via interviews and video review is where they hard work would be done.  Trying to determine how to respond to an ugly situation like this will be the impression and legacy that we (media, alumni, fans) will be left with.  The conference and schools had the chance to serve notice with more than words in a press release that this incident crossed the line and will not, and shall not, be tolerated by issuing tough suspensions that will send a message to other members in the conference.

The suspensions were announced late Wednesday afternoon. This time, they got it wrong.

Ten student-athletes and two managers were suspended for their next game, which would be played on Saturday February 8, and six of those student-athletes would miss the next scheduled game as well.  Texas Southern, who are currently second in the conference had five players and two managers identified, were impacted the hardest as their top two leading scorers and leading rebounder were involved.  None of the five players from Alabama State were starters or averaged more than 4.5 ppg.

That’s a total of 16 games missed among 10 student-athletes.  By comparison to the Kansas-Kansas State end of game brawl, 4 student-athletes were suspended 25 games including one player who served a 12-game suspension. So, 3 players served a total of 13 games.

Let me preface this by saying I hate that these young women, student-athletes were in this situation. I’m sure they are good students and servants to their school communities, who have a chance to be great future leaders once they’ve received their degrees from Alabama State and Texas Southern.  But, one and two-game suspensions for what took place on Monday night is too light of a suspension and a real miss for the conference and schools.

With over half of the season remaining for both schools, suspensions that took these young ladies off the court at least half of the remaining games should have been the minimum suspension for any player that threw a punch in this incident. I don’t know this to be a fact, but I’d presume each of the 10 student-athletes suspended probably did that, or worse.

Was suspending the players for the remainder of the regular season an option? Or making both teams ineligible for the conference tournament considered?  If not, it should have been.  Those were my immediate thoughts after seeing the incident.  Just because the video did not go viral, or get covered by news outlets in Houston or Montgomery, AL, should not be the determining factor for how tough a suspension following this incident should be.

The conference should have issued a tougher suspension and let the schools/players make an appeal for a reduction to the ruling. A clear and decisive response of that nature may have been deemed excessive, but sometimes it’s better to be extreme in order to stomp out any thought that this type of reaction is acceptable.

Did a chair have to be picked up for the suspensions to be worse? I would hope not.

I hope there is not a next time.  I hope no conference or school has to make such tough decisions that affects the playing career of student-athletes.  But if there is a next time, I hope the suspensions are tougher and longer.

Share your thoughts with Bryan on the Black College Sports Network Facebook page or via Twitter (@DrB365).