The Mountain West has gone wild.
And for now, after a recent call to the principal’s office about the behavior of the men’s and women’s basketball teams, it seems to be back on its best behavior.
A Jan. 15 memo obtained by the Journal written by MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson highlighted the league’s concern that the perception of the conference had become “nothing short of embarrassing” this season. In referencing the high number of technical fouls being called, ejections, on-court brawls, postgame shouting matches and even some incidents of interaction with fans, the commissioner told his membership “enough is enough.”
The memo was sent by deputy commissioner Bret Gilliland, but states it was on behalf of Thompson. It made clear the league will have a “zero tolerance” policy moving forward on unsportsmanlike behavior.
“This was the lead in one of the top stories in today’s D1.ticker: ‘Another weekend of questionable behavior from the Mountain West hoops scene…’ ” stated the memo, which was marked as confidential and addressed to athletic directors and men’s and women’s basketball coaches of all 11 conference members.
The memo added, “Even more frustrating is the fact the membership has been asked to address sportsmanship on two previous occasions in the last two weeks.”
But the memo was prompted by the headline on the D1 Ticker, a site that aggregates college athletics articles into daily emails and sends them primarily to athletics department administrators.
“It is for this reason,” Thompson’s wrote, “I feel compelled to write you with the message ‘enough is enough’. The behavior by our men’s and women’s basketball student-athletes and coaching staffs thus far this season has been nothing short of embarrassing.”
The memo points out that through Jan. 14, the league had:
• 45 technical fouls in men’s basketball (35 for players, 10 for coaches)
• 22 technical fouls in women’s basketball (16 for players, six for coaches).
And in league games alone between Dec. 28 and Jan. 14:
• An oncourt brawl in women’s basketball between Utah State and UNLV that included eight ejections and three one-game suspensions.
• Boise State senior Nick Duncan flipped off the Utah State student section during a game.
• One men’s player, one men’s head coach (Fresno State’s Rodney Terry) and two men’s assistants (UNM’s Terrence Rencher and Chris Harriman) being ejected.
• “Visiting men’s basketball head coach verbally taunted by host institution’s fan, requiring security intervention” (a reference to security intervening at the Dec. 28 Fresno State/UNM game in the Pit when a fan was said to be calling Fresno State player’s “thugs”)
• A “contentious men’s basketball contest” between UNM and Colorado State that included “several instances of inappropriate conduct” including in-game technical fouls, the aforementioned assistant coach ejections and a postgame shouting match between Rencher and Colorado State player Emmanuel Omogbo that CSU head coach Larry Eustachy was also a part of.
That Jan. 14 parking lot incident led to an ESPN.com article that was linked in the D1 Ticker that prompted Thompson’s memo. The article referenced a heated exchange in the parking lot of Moby Arena in Fort Collins, Colo., after UNM beat the Rams. The incident was captured on video by the Journal, which ESPN used for its article.
While the incident was the straw that prompted the commissioner’s sternly worded memo, the league didn’t mete out any punishment of its own. And, despite claiming to have interviewed eyewitnesses to the incident, the league did not do so comprehensively. The Journal reporter whose video captured the incident and who was the only bystander not on payroll, scholarship or otherwise affiliated with either school was not interviewed as part of the league’s investigation.
Rencher publicly apologized for his role in the incident. He and Omogbo, on their own, spoke on the phone last week. Omogbo told the Loveland Reporter-Herald, “It went really good. I said it was my fault. He said it was his fault. We didn’t know whose fault it was, really. We didn’t play the blame game. … If I see him at the Pit (the two teams play Feb. 21), I would dap him up. I have a ton of respect for him.”
The Feb. 21 rematch between CSU and UNM’s men’s teams was already a hot topic for UNM administrators at a Jan. 17 leadership meeting. It was decided visiting-team buses and TV trucks parked on the south entrance to the arena would be surrounded by metal barricades for all men’s games to stop foot traffic in the area before, during and after games.
“We have had numerous conversations as a Conference regarding our brand — identifying who we are and what we represent,” Thompson wrote. “Unfortunately, the quote above (this referring to the ‘questionable behavior’ label) is a harsh reminder of what the Mountain West brand is at the moment and how our league (particularly the basketball enterprise) is perceived.”
Since the memo, there have been 20 games played on the men’s side and 20 women’s games. There have been zero ejections in that time, just two technical fouls in men’s games, six in women’s games and zero national attention paid to embarrassing incidents.