- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Officials from Cincinnati and Xavier are not in an easy position.
The great rivalry between Cincinnati's two basketball powers spun wildly out of control last season, when late-game trash talking by Xavier's Tu Holloway escalated an already ugly blowout into empty benches and Cincy center Yancy Gates' haymakers and a bloody mess of XU center Kenny Frease's face.
The melee became an instant national conversation of the kind usually reserved for LeBron James' fourth-quarter performances, and postgame interviews by Xavier players Holloway and guard Mark Lyons and (at the time, anyway) seemingly incoherent suspensions by both coaches only worsened the hit to each school's respective image. It was really bad.
Things have calmed down since, and both schools went on to have successful seasons and runs in the NCAA tournament. But apparently, at least in Cincinnati, the initial hit lingers. The two schools' brass had to do something different, something to show the matter was being taken seriously. According to a report from The Cincinnati Enquirer, what they devised is a neutral-court compromise. From the report:
Based on the alternating site arrangement that has been in effect for years, the game was to be played this season at UC’s Fifth Third Arena, but in the wake of the brawl that erupted with 9.4 seconds left in XU’s 76-53 victory in last year’s game at Xavier’s Cintas Center, officials from the two schools agreed to move it to a neutral court for two years in an attempt to improve the climate surrounding the game. Financial details have not been finalized.
After the two-year trial period, the behavior of players and fans will be re-evaluated, with no guarantee that the series will continue.
At first glance, this seems like the right idea. You can't discontinue the series, or at least neither school wants to. The crosstown rivalry has too much history, means too much to both teams' fan bases, to kill it after one particularly unflattering day. But you also just can't let what happened in December slide, right? Something had to be done.
Which is how we arrive at the Enquirer's report of a move to U.S. Bank Arena, a half-measure that seems to serve little more than to showcase the willingness of both schools to take the incident seriously. As Mike DeCourcy, who is as familiar with the rivalry as any college hoops writer in the country, wrote Tuesday:
Exactly what moving the game off campus will do for the rivalry is hard to imagine. It is possible each school will make less money, because they’ll have to pay rent. It increases the possibility of an incident between fans because there’ll be more from each side in greater proximity to each other. [...] The administrations of each school apparently believed they needed to change something if they wanted to continue playing the game. If the rivalry truly was contaminated, and one could argue it wasn’t in the least, then it needed a cure. What the game didn’t need was botched cosmetic surgery.
DeCourcy begins his story with a discussion of the unique nature of the rivalry at each team's home site: Despite the schools' four-mile proximity, fans from the visiting team rarely found their way into the gym. Each school's fans considered it a point of pride not to sell tickets to the opposition. Now, the game will be crunched into a sterile, neutral arena, attended by fans of both teams, and who knows how that will go?
Odds are it will proceed without incident like most of the fixtures in this series' long and illustrious history. But after last season's chastising mess, that could have been just as true of a game at Cincinnati's home arena or in 2013 at Xavier. And if neither side believed that to be true, something larger needed to be done.
Instead, the two schools nodded toward a problem without doing much to solve it, assuming (perhaps wrongly) that a problem even exists in the first place. Indeed, Cincinnati and Xavier compromised -- in every sense of the term.