CINCINNATI - Two days after the local rivalry between the Cincinnati Bearcats and Xavier Musketeers made national headlines for the wrong reasons, members of UC's team involved in the brawl apologized for their actions.
Head coach Mick Cronin, players Yancy Gates, Octavius Ellis, Ge'Lawn Guyn and Cheikh Mbodj along with new UC Athletic Director Whit Babcock spoke to the media and answered questions stemming from the bench-clearing fight that occurred after the Musketeers beat the Bearcats 76-53 Saturday afternoon at the Cintas Center on Xavier's campus.
"I apologize to the whole city for my actions," said Gates. The senior was suspended for six games for punching Xavier University's Kenny Frease in the melee.
"The actions that I displayed is not what I'm about, what UC is about and what my family is about," said an emotional Gates, acknowledging the brawl could have been the end of his college career.
Mbodj, also suspended for six games for kicking Frease, said he was embarrassed at his actions.
"I want to say sorry to the Cincinnati community, the fans, coaches and my teammates," he said. "This is not the way to handle things."
Similar sentiments came from younger players Ellis and Guyn. Each has been suspended for one game.
"I apologize to the fans and coaching staff for what happened," said Ellis. "I should have done the right thing and grabbed my teammate instead of coming off the bench and throwing the first punch."
Guyn was contrite in saying he let UC, the community and his teammates down.
"I take full responsibility for what I did and I'd like to say I'm sorry," he said.
UC Coach Mick Cronin said he fully supported the university decision on all the suspensions.
"To everyone, we're sorry. We're here to make it part of our past. A lot of guys showed character and controlled their emotions. They should be commended. I got to get those guys ready to play Wednesday. We have a big game to get ready for."
A lot's been talked about things I said after the game. "I fully support the university's decision to suspend the players. Nobody should get to represent a university or have a scholarship if they don't realize it's a privilege."
Nobody will take the floor again representing the University of Cincinnati if they don't believe that "it is a privilege. We offer no excuses. We represent the University of Cincinnati with a lot of pride."
Cronin, as well as many others, argued that the referees who officiate this game should be familiar with the rivalry. This was the first time these officials worked this game, according to Cronin.
Many people, including Cronin, said the officials should've done more early in the game to prevent something like this from happening. Both sides were jawing back and forth, something that happens in this rivalry, but the writing for something bad to happen was on the wall. People at the game as well as analysts for ESPN could tell tensions were getting high and it could boil over.
"There should've been multiple technical fouls called. This isn't the first time this has happened, but this is the first time we didn't act the right way," said Cronin.
He said it doesn't absolve anything that happened, but he did ask the referees to put a stop to the trash talking in the first half. He said one of the referees told him some UC players were also trash talking.
"Then 'T' up everyone on my bench who said something," Cronin said. "When the emotional situation broke out, guys weren't able to react in the right way. They acted on emotion."
The Atlantic 10 conference released the following statement from Atlantic 10 Coordinator of Men's Basketball Coordinator of Officials Reggie Greenwood regarding the assigning of officials for Saturday's game:
"The crew assigned for the Xavier-Cincinnati game work for both the Atlantic 10 Conference and the Big East Conference and are a ‘blended crew' as required by the game contract. As is standard, the A-10 communicated with the Big East Coordinator of Officials on the assignment."
"If it (the game) can't be played the right way, we shouldn't play it." There's been no decision on canceling the game. "I have talked to Mike Bobinski (Xavier athletic director), if it does continue there's a lot of work on the front end that will have to be done."
When asked if Gates or any other players will reach out to members of Xavier's team, Cronin said they will not contact anyone on the Musketeers. "It's a two-way street. Last thing we need right now is back-and-forth. Right now, they need to get on with their season, we need to get on with ours."
"We're here to make it part of our past and move on to our future," he said.
Cronin also addressed the national perception of his program, mainly Gates.
"The logo never comes off. When we do you something and
you're a public figure, you're going to hear about it. We're not going to let other people define who we are," Cronin said. "My job as a college basketball coach is to help him get on with his life. He's got to use this incident to become a better man."
After the suspensions are over, Cronin's players will not be able to play unless they meet certain requirements. He said the players must undergo anger management counseling with the team's medical staff, apologize to the student body and hopefully speak to kids. Cronin would like the players to meet with local high schools but doesn't think the NCAA will allow that to take place.
New athletic director Whit Babcock also spoke during the news conference. "In the five or six weeks I have been here, the thing I've been struck by is the pride and how people feel about this school. I want to apologize to the Bearcat family. We let them down."
I know there are people out there who are embarrassed. "I want to apologize to them. We will move forward, doesn't mean we will forget. I assure you we do not take it lightly."
Babcock said when discussing the suspensions, a won-loss issue for the team was never brought up. "Our primary goal was to discipline and modify behavior."
He said the numbers that were coming back were lower than we were coming up with. He felt like there had to be an immediate suspension.
Games won't bring those punches back," said Babcock.
Babcock, who has two young children, also issued an apology to parents who's children saw the fight. "I want to apologize to the Bearcat community and parents who had to discuss this with their children.
Earlier in the day Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said his office will review the matter and determine whether any criminal charges are appropriate.