A friend approached me at lunch Thursday and commented, “What is going on in Conway and at UCA? The hits keep coming.”
In this case, literally.
The baseball programs at the University of Central Arkansas and Arkansas-Little Rock experienced self-inflicted black eyes Wednesday night when WWE broke out in the 10th inning of an intense baseball game at Bear Stadium.
Video of the incident (posted at thecabin.net) went viral nationwide. It seemingly prompted the greatest reaction since UCA put stripes on the football field. But this was not the kind of national exposure a school wants.
A friend once told me that you should always be careful of the identifying and qualifying phrase after your name.
Fair or unfair, both the baseball teams at UCA and UALR will be identified this year by the disgusting incident. For example, “UCA’s baseball team, which engaged in a bench-clearing brawl with a state rival earlier this season, blah, blah, blah ...”
Whether the theory is on base or off, what happened just adds significant fuel to the argument by Razorback officials why in-state teams should not play. It’s an easy fall-back excuse.
Baseball is an intense game, and flare-ups are not unusual.
But the disturbing aspect about this incident is the fire was brought to blaze by the immature acts of coaches from both teams, Allen Gum of UCA and Scott Norwood of UALR. Both good and successful baseball coaches and have done a lot for their institutions. But not Wednesday night.
After an interference call was reversed, both coaches, who apparently have a history from their Division II days at Southern Arkansas and Ouachita Baptist, ended up in the middle of the diamond, face-to-face, chest-to-chest in an intense discussion that seemingly didn’t include postgame dinner plans.
Norwood was jostled and fell to the ground (possibly a flop), benches were cleared, punches were thrown and the scrum moved with growing intensity toward the stands and the backstop.
It was difficult to spot the adults.
From reports from folks noted that the umpires lost control early and allowed the intensity to get out of hand. Some admitted they saw something nasty coming. Whether that is correct, coaches should never be allowed to go chest-to-chest, nose-to-nose and have physical contact with each other.
And, whatever the adversity, coaches are supposed to set the example and act with the same discipline they demand of their players at the plate and in the field. Gum says he recruits class, preaches discipline and the proper way to do things, and I assume Norwood does the same. Both stumbled mightily Wednesday in walking the walk beyond the talk.
As my mom used to say before she got a switch in addressing my misbehavior, it really didn’t matter who started it or who was originally at fault.
Coaches, including assistants, on both sides embarrassed themselves and their universities and made a mockery of the leadership they are supposed to give and the example they should set for highly-competitive and impressionable young men. They have placed a smear on the game they love. Bench-clearing brawls, and they have happened elsewhere in college baseball this season, don’t need to happen at this amateur level of sport and be witnessed (either live or on video) by youngsters at other levels of baseball. It’s disgusting enough in professional sports.
Those in charge of college athletics need to send the message that this sort of behavior (particularly instigated by coaches) will not be tolerated.
The incident is under review by both the Southland and Sun Belt Conferences. NCAA-mandated sanctions are already in effect. There could be additional suspensions and punishment. This requires more than a slap on the wrist.
Sure, it’s just one incident, but I think the issue should be addressed aggressively for the sake of the higher ideals of sportsmanship and respect that should be foundational to the college game.
Here are my suggestions:
1. Review the actions and possibly reprimand the umpires and make a stronger emphasis on making more certain a game (and do it from the initial home plate conference) between intense rivals doesn’t get out of hand.
2. Follow basketball and football protocol and suspend every player and coach who left the dugout area for the next game. If that results in a forfeit because of not enough players, so be it. Players and coaches need to understand the full consequences of childish actions.
3. Suspend both Gum and Norwood, and any other coach actively involved in the incident, for at least a week without pay. As parents, they would probably ground their kids in the same way under the same circumstances.
4. Put both Gum and Norwood on probation and any further behavior that results in an ejection will result in a suspension and a ban on postseason play for their teams. This should count as two strikes for both programs.
Harsh? Teams and coaches at all levels should be held to high standards on how they play the game and how they represent their institutions, and failure to do so should result in consequences that should get their attention.
UCA prevailed in an exciting baseball game, but there were no winners Wednesday night — just a few untimely hits and a bunch of errors.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)