Dienhart: Hot or not, players can't cross that line

The Big Ten coaches were buzzing Monday about this weekend’s incident where Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart shoved an opposing team’s fan. Smart later apologized and was subsequently suspended.

“I’m sure every coach in the country is going to be reminding their team of it today, if they didn’t yesterday,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said Monday. “You can’t ever let anybody get in the way of your career, in the way of your responsibility to your team.”

Here Crean below:

[MORE: Hear Big Ten coaches on the weekly teleconference here. ]

And watch the Smart incident below.

It seems some want to lay blame at the feet of Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford for not running a tighter ship. Smart had shown a proclivity for outbursts, kicking a chair in frustration earlier this season after a poor game vs. West Virginia.

Sure, if that makes you feel better, blame Ford. He is at fault, to a degree, for perhaps not reigning in Smart earlier. But let’s not kid ourselves: Ford needs Smart. Time and again across this great nation, talented athletes are given many second chances and are given a long leash because, well, they are talented athletes who help coaches win games.

It’ll never change. Ever.

As long as a mega athlete helps a coach and the school win games, that coach and school will do all it can to keep playing the mega athlete. Great talents in every field will be enabled from now until the Earth implodes.

Could Ford have taken a chance at hacking off Smart by disciplining him too much for kicking a chair?

However you want to interpret the environment that Ford created for his team in Stillwater, so be it. Just know this: Does a player REALLY need to be told that he shouldn’t shove a fan? Isn’t that something Smart learned as a child in grade school? Didn’t Smart pick up on social cues the last 10 to 15 years that shoving someone wasn’t acceptable behavior?

The bottom line is this: We all are responsible for our own actions. Period. End of story. Don’t finger point or play the blame game. It’s weak and lame.

Is Smart young? Is Smart probably still immature? Was Smart in a heated situation in a hostile environment? Was something inflammatory said to Smart?

Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

Still, Smart can’t act like he did. No matter what. And it’s no one’s fault but his own. Smart knows that. If not, then he has some very serious problems. To his credit, Smart did apologize – and so did the fan involved.

No matter what anyone says to you, you can’t put your hands on people in a hostile fashion. That’s what makes this quote from Michigan State coach Tom Izzo a bit puzzling.

“If they were saying to your son or daughter what they’re saying to 90 percent of our players, you’d be fighting, too,” Izzo said.

What? Is he condoning what Smart did?

As Crean said earlier in this piece, coaches will use the Smart incident as a teaching point, and that’s a good thing. Fans will continue to act poorly, no matter what rules are in place in venues across America. They feel it’s their right as a ticket buyer to say and act as they want. Count on it. It’s the players who must rise above the noise. Again, fans aren’t going to do it. Still, these types of instincts likely already are rooted in the personalities of players. It’s VERY difficult to change behavior.

Was Smart’s three-game suspension too harsh? Is a three-game suspension enough to change Smart’s behavior? Will he suffer enough pain to alter how he reacts?

Who knows?

I may have suspended him longer. Smart could have enacted a full-blown riot by confronting and shoving a fan. Thank goodness the incident didn’t blow up into something more heinous, like that infamous “Malice at the Palace” brawl between Pistons-Pacers in 2004.

If you think I’m exaggerating here, listen to another Big Ten coach

“In basketball, the fans are right on top of you,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey said. “For a player to go after a guy … based on what I’ve heard, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened more.”

Let’s hope it doesn’t.

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About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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3 Comments

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John on 2/11/2014 @ 12:23pm EDT Said:

Marcus Smart is a thug and should have had his scholarship revoked. There is no place in any sport for players like him. I hope the NBA takes notice and bans him. College fans are vocal and loud but NBA fans are worse.

Graig on 2/11/2014 @ 12:57pm EDT Said:

I assume Izzo is making the point that players already show such restraint and that the average person, that doesn’t deal with open hostility, crossing into hatred, 10-15 times a year would typically react as Smart did in this instance.

Chaz on 2/11/2014 @ 4:09pm EDT Said:

My biggest disappointment here is that Smart initially lied by saying a racial slur was involved. I played basket ball in college and being called a “piece of crap” is very mild considering some of the insults I heard and hardly racial. Maybe the suspension will help him chill out. There are plenty of jerks who attend basketball games and he needs to accept this.