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Rant: NBA brawl made for TV news

JOHN SCHWARB
Published November 28, 2004

First, a caveat: What happened in the Pacers-Pistons NBA game was ugly, unacceptable, something that must never happen again. And Ron Artest got what he deserved, a suspension for the rest of the season. Now that the outrage has subsided a little, can we realize this was not such a cataclysmic affair?

It was an idiot fan inciting an idiot player, who idiotically retaliated and in effect brought in dozens more idiots. It was a situation that lacked proper security. It was not a great moment in sports history, but it was not a turning point either.

ESPN would want you to think otherwise, playing the footage constantly and airing opinions from all its talking heads. Not coincidentally, Pistons-Pacers was its game of the night, and the network would also like you to know it will broadcast the rematch on Christmas Day.

We wonder if this wasn't a nationally televised game, would it still be a significant news story? Face it, if there was a similar rumble in, say, a regional broadcast of a game between the lowly Bulls and Hornets, is this as big a deal? If somehow the big punches aren't caught on film, can the story lead SportsCenter or land the combatants on Today?

Pistons/Pacers was deplorable, yes, and measures will be taken to prevent future incidents. But with the sports world's insatiable appetite for the next armageddon story it was also the right footage at the right time.

Rave: Gamecocks make right moves

Credit South Carolina with a couple of smart moves last week.

Monday, the school said it would not accept a bowl bid in the wake of the previous weekend's ugly melee with Clemson (the Tigers made a similar announcement). It was a horrible scene at Clemson, as dozens of players brawled less than 24 hours after the NBA rumble.

With that incident dominating the headlines, USC couldn't let its donnybrook go unpunished. Make no mistake - turning down a bowl bid is a substantial fine to impose on oneself.

Even at 6-5 the Gamecocks would have received a bid, possibly from the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., or elsewhere. The team would have had another few weeks of practice, players would have enjoyed a vacation and the athletic department would pocket a pile of money.

But the powers that be passed up all the spoils, seeing how wrong it would look to benefit from one of the sorriest scenes of the college football season.

And when the Gamecocks take the field next year? Oh, they'll only have one of the sport's most intriguing coaches on the sideline.

Hiring Steve Spurrier was a stroke of genius and a no-brainer. USC, an average program that often got above-average attention with Lou Holtz, remains in the spotlight, as does the Ol' Ball Coach - at a school that won't demand annual national championships. At Carolina, Holtz was loved at 0-11, then revered when taking the Gamecocks to consecutive Outback Bowls over the following two years.

Spurrier will be loved if he can stick it to his former employer in Gainesville, beat Clemson and threaten the traditional SEC powers. Meet those duties and Gamecocks faithful will happily let him play golf and lay low the rest of the time.

Smart hire by a school that has its visor on straight.

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