Remember when some American sports shows spent the better part of two weeks debating whether Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph was genuinely at fault for his altercation with Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, in which he was struck with a football helmet?
He started it! No, he did!
Yeah, let’s not do that again.
MORE: Late block ignites brawl between Kansas, Kansas State
It doesn’t matter whether the needless steal and attempted layup by Kansas State guard DaJuan Gordon was the origin point of the ugly brawl between the Wildcats and Jayhawks on Tuesday, or whether it was Kansas forward Silvio De Sousa angrily standing over Gordon after swatting that shot into the seats.
It only matters what happened afterward — and only what happened.
The fight that developed was launched by the departure of multiple K-State players from the adjacent team bench and escalated by Kansas players responding in kind. It probably was exacerbated by the fact at least one of the two head coaches presumed the game over and was getting on with the perfunctory-but-somehow-mandatory business of the postgame handshake.
There will be suspensions for what occurred, because mandatory punishments were written into the rules of college basketball three decades ago after on-court fights had become a fairly regular occurrence in the game.
You leave the bench, you get suspended. That means there will be multiple players from each team who get at least one game for departing the bench area to become involved. K-State freshman Antonio Gordon (No. 11 on your roster) was away from his chair so quickly he looked like Usain Bolt in the Olympics. He was first out of his seat, but hardly alone.
You throw a punch, you get suspended. It’s difficult to ascertain all who were involved in this activity, particularly whether specific individuals were punching or pushing. One of those who looked like he was involved, De Sousa, later grabbed a chair and held it as if he intended it to be a weapon — an act that blessedly was interrupted.
You hold a chair over your head, ready to strike … well, who knows what the punishment is for that?
Should it be a week? A month? A season? Should De Sousa be suspended based on intent and appearance?
MORE: KU loss to Nova shows there ‘just isn’t one team that’s dominant’
We know for certain there was at least one hero in all this, and perhaps no one on this night could have been better suited to the role. His name is Jerrance Howard, an assistant coach for Kansas. Interestingly, he played for both Bill Self and K-State coach Bruce Weber while at Illinois (Self from 2000-03, Weber in 2003-04). He now coaches under Self, which he has done since 2013, and coached under Weber at Illinois from 2008-11.
It was Howard who reached in as De Sousa held what appeared to be a stool overhead and knocked it away. He didn’t get there before photographers were able to seize an image that will haunt De Sousa, but did manage to intercede before anyone was harmed.
When Cincinnati and Xavier had a fight erupt in the final minutes of their 2011 rivalry game, the aftermath almost was as overheated as the altercation itself. Three Bearcats players were suspended six games, another for one. Two Musketeers players received four-game suspensions, one got two games and another player got a single game. The universities took their terrific rivalry game off campus and played it in a downtown arena.
There must be punishment in this circumstance. But, it also would be helpful to turn down the rhetoric.
Some have called for De Sousa to be dismissed from the Jayhawks program, or to be suspended for the season. He needs a lot of time to think about this, but forever seems a bit much. Perhaps he should have been more circumspect, but the heat of competition drives people in some curious directions (the NHL shows us this almost nightly).
We are not in that crucible, though — neither are officials at Kansas, Kansas State or the Big 12 Conference. Punishment should be driven by what is appropriate under these circumstances, not what sounds bold to the public. Punishment should be presented because of what happened, not what might have occurred.
Howard didn’t just knock a chair to the floor: He changed the outcome of the situation. Because he was there, because he acted, the consequences should change, as well.