Rough play makes for rough night in KCAC men’s basketball

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Covering Tabor College basketball has been a great opportunity for me. I get to see all the statistics, stand on the end of the court and take pictures, talk to the referees during timeouts, and even get to personally know the coaches.

And I get in free!

But it also has opened my eyes to the physical play that thus far has dominated the men’s games in the KCAC.

The first game I covered in this job was the infamous battle with Sterling. This game featured physical play that went well beyond what was meant to be allowed on the hardwoods.

Beyond that, fan “interaction”-not only between the players and fans, but between the referees and fans, the athletic director of Sterling and fans, and Hillsboro and Marion County law enforcement officers and fans-almost let the night get out of hand.

But what, really, was the cause of such ugly behavior?

Let’s examine the issues.

First, both teams were hungry for a win. Tabor was trying to improve on a disappointing 3-4 record. Sterling adopted a style of basketball that gave them the best chance to win.

Another factor was the men in stripes.

I’ve long said that the last job I’d want is to be a basketball official. You couldn’t pay me enough to do that job. I admit I’d have the worst case of “rabbit ears” known to man.

In all fairness to these officials, the game is getting faster and quicker, the athletes bigger and stronger, and it’s just not humanly possible for them to get every call right.

But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to be consistent. How many times have we winced when a touch foul is whistled 40 feet from the basket while two lumbering men literally wrestle for position in the lane?

Another ingredient that night was animated fans. Players feed off the fans, coaches feed off the fans, and without a doubt, referees feed off the fans.

Last but not least, college administrators contribute to the atmosphere at games. It must be said that Sterling’s athletic director was a central figure in the near-fray.

Mr. Kruse seemed to mirror the in-your-face attitude the Warrior players carried on the court. Had he kindly stepped forward and quieted the Sterling fans, the whole incident might have been defused.

Instead, he belittled the authority not only of Tabor officials, but of law-enforcement officers charged with protecting citizens’ safety.

Tabor College wasn’t without fault. Its fans were anything but gracious hosts. And if I remember right, some Tabor administrators were in the middle of these heated “conversations,” too. Lest we forget, it does take two to tango.

It was just unfortunate that two talented teams were unable to let their court skills do the talking.

Hoping the Sterling game was a fluke, I have since covered KCAC games at home versus Bethany, and on the road at McPherson and Bethel.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Inconsistent officiating, rowdy and raucous hometown fans, and disrespect for the way basketball was meant to be played have all combined to make KCAC basketball one of the most physical conferences around.

Too many referees caught up in the moment.

Too many fans living out their athletic inadequacies through the players on the court.

Too many players trying to replicate maneuvers and behaviors seen on Sportscenter.

In short: too much talking and not enough playing.

A solution to this KCAC “love fest”starts at the top. Administration and coaches alike should be held accountable for their actions and that of their team and fans.

Players need to focus more on the game and less on the crowd. Enthusiasm on the court is necessary, but showcase your athletic talent more and your mouth less.

Move the fans off the court. It’s easy to be intimidated with partisan fans breathing down your neck-whether you’re a player for the home team, visiting team, or the officials.

School the referees better. Send them to more clinics so they get a better grasp on how to handle sensitive situations-and call a more consistent game.

Parents, teach your kids proper values and behavior-how to act at a game, whether as player or fan.

KCAC basketball has some marvelous and talented athletes. Let’s just hope that it becomes more “family friendly” so mom and dad can bring their children to watch it without fearing for safety.

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