There is was for all the fans of Big Time College Football to see: rampant unsportsmanship, keyed by a foulmouthed head coach. Television -- the sugar daddy that has raised intercollegiate football to its Frankenstein state on campuses all across America -- presented a disgusting show from Clemson, S.C.
First there was Clemson University head coach Danny Ford, coming out onto the field toward the end of the Maryland game and loudly and profanely berating officials. Later, in the closing seconds of Maryland's 34-31 victory when the Terrapins had just scored a field goal, Maryland defensive back Lewis Askew made a tackle on the Clemson sideline. TV replays indicate that at least six Clemson players began beating him about the head and body. Several times, Clemson players pulled his face mask and tried to take off his helmet. At least one Clemson player used his own helmet to hit the downed Maryland player (who later said he was not injured).
The question then arose whether all this would be shrugged off or papered over by coaches and university presidents from the Megabuck School of Athletics. Isn't winning absolutely everything in a college coach's career? Don't alumni contributions, grants and the ability to recruit players depend on winning? Don't good teams draw the most lucrative television coverage? Might that not make a coach blow up now and then?
This time anyway, responsible officials made the right move. Clemson and the Atlantic Coast Conference suspended four players, disciplined two others and placed Coach Ford on probation for one year with a reprimand. The four players will not participate in today's Clemson game. The three who are underclassmen also have been suspended for next year's game at Maryland, where Coach Ford will be confined to the press box. The coach has apologized, and the students have all been told to.
ACC Commissioner Bob James noted that the disciplinary action is the first of its kind in the 15 years he has held his job. "There is no way I would sit in this chair and tolerate actions like this," he said. "It was very ugly."
It was. And it doesn't have to be that way. On the same Saturday, the University of Virginia did not have its star quarterback available for a key game with an ACC rival. The coach had suspended him for breaking a team rule against drinking in public. Too tough? No -- a way to establish reasonable standards in college football.