The Armed Forces Bowl, held last week on New Year’s Eve, is supposed to honor military service. So to be cynical, maybe it’s appropriate that a battle broke out among players after the game between Mississippi State and Tulsa.
More accurately, the brawl was an embarrassment to both schools. Coaches and other university officials have apologized for what happened.
Coming over a holiday, not to mention the day before the two national championship semifinal games, the incident didn’t get an overwhelming amount of attention. It may not even matter much except to fans of the two schools — or to people who just enjoy watching kids attack each other uncontrollably. But it’s worth exploring in terms of the negative attention that such unexpected events always bring to the people involved in them.
First, let’s note that college football players aren’t the only 20-year-olds who act impulsively and sometimes do stupid things. And let’s also note that, according to news reports, there was some sort of confrontation between a few players on the two teams during pregame warmups. Further, the team concept — having the back of your fellow players — usually is admirable.
It’s clear from the game itself that bad feelings were brewing: Tulsa got called for three unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, while Mississippi State got one of those flags along with a personal foul penalty.
Even with all those disclaimers, the video of the brawl is shocking. You can clearly see players from both teams punching one another as the scrum traveled for 30 yards along one sideline. One Mississippi State player unwisely posted a video from the locker room bragging about the way he kicked a fallen Tulsa player in the face mask after the Tulsa guy was throwing punches.
Most disappointing of all was the ho-hum reaction of Mississippi State coach Mike Leach. He said that while the brawl was dumb, no matter how it started, it shouldn’t stain anything that the Bulldogs did well during the game.
“Somebody went to a football game and somebody got hit. There’s a point where I’m not going to lose my mind over it,” Leach added.
Hopefully the other adults at Mississippi State and Tulsa will think differently than Leach did. Recordings of the brawl should make it easy to identify the worst offenders on each team, and they ought to be punished with suspensions for part of next season, at a minimum.
It took Austin Williams, a Mississippi State wide receiver, to figure out the biggest problem with this embarrassment.
“I honestly hate for that to take away from the win that we had, winning our first bowl game in a couple years,” he said. “That’s big. I hate that it is negative publicity for the team because I thought we played really hard today.”
Indeed, there was a game. Mississippi State beat Tulsa, 28-26. It was a bright ending to an otherwise disappointing year, and it’s a shame that players on both sides were unable to resist getting provoked into a very public fight.