Allen Crabbe said that it was a spur of the moment. But Cal athletics director Sandy Barbour and Cal men’s basketball coach Mike Montgomery felt it needed to be addressed.
Around the 16:31 mark in the second half during a timeout break in the Sunday night game against USC, Montgomery tried to rally the struggling guard. Down by double digits, the frustration on both ends spilled over as Montgomery pushed Crabbe, and the enraged Crabbe had to be forcefully separated from Montgomery.
Calming himself by the player tunnel, Crabbe had to miss 20-odd seconds of playing time. When he returned, Montgomery put him into the game, to the delight of the crowd.
Crabbe went onto score a team-high 23 points for the Bears, including three pivotal 3-pointers at the end of the game that completed the comeback and a 76-68 victory.
Both Crabbe and Montgomery brushed the altercation aside as trivial drama at the postgame conference. Crabbe saw it as no big deal; Montgomery saw it as the spark of the game. But Barbour saw it as a matter that warranted an apology.
“Sunday’s game was an emotional one for everyone who cares deeply about our men’s basketball program, and the Bears certainly showed tremendous resolve coming back to earn a win over USC,” Barbour said. “However, it is unacceptable for our coaches to have physical contact with student-athletes, regardless of the circumstances.
“The second-half incident was certainly out of character for Mike Montgomery, and I am confident that something like this will not happen again.”
Montgomery followed suit with an apology of his own.
“I have great passion for this game, and tonight, I let my emotions get away from me in the heat of the moment,” Montgomery said. “While my intent was to motivate our student-athletes, my behavior was inappropriate, and I apologize for my actions.”
But neither Barbour, Montgomery nor Crabbe probably expected the widespread hooplah that ensued regarding Montgomery’s shove.
On Monday, the story had gone viral nationwide, being discussed in national sports outlets like ESPN, Deadspin, Grantland and many others. Montgomery drew criticism for laying a hand on his star player. But opinions around the media outlets and Twitter varied on whether Montgomery should be suspended.
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott did not choose to suspend Montgomery. Instead, Scott issued a statement that reprimanded the coach.
“While emotions can run high in competitive environments, Pac-12 coaches are expected to conduct themselves in a manner that will reflect credit on the institution and the Conference,” Scott said in the statement. “Each Pac-12 coach must be aware that they are an example to student-athletes and other students, and consistent with this influence and visibility, must meet a particularly high standard.”
In reaction to Scott choosing to reprimand, not suspend, Montgomery, California Sen. Leland Yee has called for the suspension of Montgomery. Lee asserted that UC Berkeley should not tolerate Montgomery’s behavior.
“The game was an emotional one, but representatives of UC — especially adults — need to be able to control their emotions and refrain from physical altercations with students,” Yee said in a statement. “I urge the university to take swift disciplinary action of at least a one-game suspension, and I wish the Cal basketball program the very best as they enter the final games of the season.”
Seung Y. Lee covers men’s basketball. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.