BERKELEY, Calif. – Rule 10, section 6, article 2, subsection j of the NCAA rule book assesses a technical foul on and ejects “any bench personnel leaving the bench area when a fight may break out or has broken out.”
It was invoked five times Wednesday night, but three of the ejected parties – California assistant coach Gregg Gottlieb and Stanford assistant coaches Charles Payne and Mark Madsen – kept a scrum over a loose ball from devolving into something much, much worse, exposing the inherent disconnect between the letter and spirit of the law.
It all started with Allen Crabbe’s attempt to force a held ball with 5:04 left to play in the second half. A referee awarded Aaron Bright the timeout he had called to give Stanford possession instead, followed by Dwight Powell ushering Crabbe back with a left elbow that put the junior guard on his backside.
A furious Crabbe went after Powell in retaliation, shoving him with an open right hand. Players on both teams then erupted in a frenzy of bodies sprinting towards the scene, some trying to get into the fray.
The assistant coaches were peacemakers, helping create space when head coaches Johnny Dawkins and Mike Montgomery and the officials, the authority figures tasked by the NCAA with restoring order, looked like they might be out-manned.
“I was glad that Mark came out because the seas kind of parted with his size,” said Dawkins of the former Stanford and NBA player’s role.
After a 10-minute review of the video to make sure no punches were thrown, the penalties were handed down, sending Gottlieb, Payne, Madsen, Stanford guard Gabriel Harris and Cal forward Richard Solomon to the locker room.
The sellout crowd of 11,877 at Haas Pavilion wasn’t pleased with the delay, but they had been in a foul mood for most of the game, offering plenty of R-rated chants. But that was the extent of their involvement.
If something had been thrown onto the court or the players’ fracas spilled out into the stands, a full-blown melee could have erupted. That the worst-case scenario did not play out can be credited in part to the assistants for their quick response.
Their reaction is the very reason why the rule should at least be reviewed, if not rescinded, in the offseason.
“I think it is something to look at when you had the situation we just had,” Dawkins said. “They are not out there to escalate anything. When you saw that kind of a scrum, that many people in that kind of a brawl, you are way outnumbered. I’m looking around out there for who to grab, who to make sure we push back, make sure we grab our players, make sure no one takes a swing at anyone.
“You need more eyes and more people involved in a situation like that to really calm it down quickly.”
The spirit of the rule is to keep unnecessary potential agitators off the court, but there are some instances where the presence of additional, responsible parties like coaches and trainers are needed, as with what happened between Cal and Stanford.
Coaches are supposed to be the adults. Let them act like it when players turn into kids and lose control. It is a reasonable conclusion. It seems like something could be easily addressed.
The problem is this is the NCAA we are talking about, an organization that seems to go out of its way to always draw the most illogical and unnecessarily complicated conclusion. Just look at its recent decision to deregulate recruiting contact and its handling of the investigation into Miami.
“The head coach may leave the bench area in this case to prevent the situation from escalating,” the second sentence of subsection j reads.
Add three simple words this summer: “and assistant coaches.”
It just makes sense. Madsen, Payne and Gottlieb proved as much.
Dan Greenspan writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.