It was roughly 90 minutes before tipoff. As the Bearcats warmed up at the Cintas Center, a grown man dressed in Xavier gear - I would guess in his mid-30's - stood as close to the court as he possibly could and taunted Yancy Gates. It wasn't good-natured fun. For 10 to 15 minutes, the man barked out a string of insulting remarks in hopes of getting under Yancy's skin.
Trust me, I am not trying to explain or defend Yancy's behavior on Saturday. It was indefensible. And I am not suggesting that Xavier fans are any different than UC fans. But it's time to inject some badly-needed civility into the nation's best intracity rivalry. On the court and off of it.
What happened on Saturday has been building for years and both sides are guilty. In the first Shootout that I ever attended (the Lenny Brown game), Danny Fortson got into a skirmish with T.J. Johnson and there have been pushes, shoves, head-butts, and punches thrown in nearly every game since. The trash talk and taunting was nothing new either. Long before Xavier's Tu Holloway made references to body bags, my all-time favorite UC basketball player - Melvin Levett - did a throat-slash gesture near the end of a Bearcat win over the Musketeers.
Before last Saturday's brawl, that kind of behavior may not have been encouraged, but it certainly wasn't condoned.
Cincinnati plays hotly-contested, physical games every year against Louisville and West Virginia and I can't remember any fights. Ditto for Xavier's annual games against Dayton and Temple.
The volatility between UC and XU is not limited to the players. The rhetoric between the two fan bases has grown increasingly harsh in recent years. And frankly, since Saturday's fight, I still don't like what I'm hearing. While the players and coaches seem genuinely remorseful, too many fans are still arguing over everything from what side started the fight to which school acted properly in the aftermath.
I love the Crosstown Shootout and consider it an incredible privilege to broadcast the game. I hope that I'll have the opportunity to do many more.
I've always thought that the UC/XU game didn't get enough nation attention for being one of the top rivalries in the country. Well, the two schools are certainly in the spotlight now. Next year's game - assuming it happens - will receive enormous national scrutiny.
There's an opportunity going forward to celebrate the fact that we have two of the best college basketball programs in the county in our city. There's no reason why they can't play a basketball game every year without the hostility. And there's no reason why any of us can't support one school without feeling the need to blast the other.
Isn't it time we emphasized the "Cross-town" instead of the "Shootout?"
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