Steve Murray is the commissioner of the NCAA Division II Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. I corresponded with Murray last February, when Mike Gundy hired Shippensburg offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich for the same job at OSU. Murray was a delightful pen pal; you can read that blog here. Coincidentally, it was posted 366 days ago.
But I received another email this week from Murray after I wrote about the Marcus Smart incident and crowd behavior. I thought it was interesting, so I’m sharing it with you.
“Berry: Thought you’d like to know that I sent your article to everyone in our league (18 Division II institutions), including presidents. It was very thought provoking. See the email below. I’ve already received back several ‘well done.’ Just hoping its not lip service though.”
This is Murray’s letter to his schools:
“To: All PSAC Personnel
“I have debated in my mind the last few days if, and how, we in the PSAC would have handled the incident last weekend involving a basketball player at Oklahoma State and a fan from Texas Tech. Frankly, those are the incidents that keep a conference commissioner awake at night.
“This morning I saw newspaper pieces and thought I’d pass them along in order that additional discourse on the level of civility that occurs in athletics occur on your campus. Historically, our league has not been immune to some very serious incidents (knock on wood). Perhaps the best time for us to address the subject is when there is not an incident that we are directly dealing with.
“The second article above is about a high school wrestling coach being shoved by a fan after a match (in Bethlehem, PA). The top article is more of an editorial about the lip service that is often brought to the situation by institutions, conferences and leadership.
“The article on the Big 12 gave me pause….and frankly, made me think about our league. Do we preach the issue of sportsmanship and civility…only to provide ‘lip service’ when the time really comes to address it? In all honesty, including myself, I don’t think we want to answer that question.
“I’ve noticed that we tend to expect sportsmanship and civility when it’s the ‘other’ team or ‘their’ fans….but not necessarily when it’s ‘us.’ I notice that because of budget cuts and balances, we understaff security at athletic events. I notice we worry about ‘creating a great atmosphere’ rather than a truly ‘civil’ one.
“I don’t intend to preach….I’m as guilty to turning a blind eye and providing lip service as anyone. I hope however that as you read these articles, particularly the Big 12 article, it will spur a discussion on your campus as how you can be proactive on this issue, before we have to be reactive.
“Rumors are that Spring will soon be here….but I’m not so sure.”
First, kudos to Murray’s proactive plan. That’s always the best way to go.
What’s interesting to me is the realization that this is an issue even on the small college level. Heck, maybe particularly at the small college or even high school level. The truth is, knuckleheaded fans are not the sole property of high-profile sports. My least favorite fan base on an annual basis is whichever town sits right behind press row at the small-school state basketball tournament. By mid-first quarter, I’m so tired of their bellyaching at referees, I’m president of the other team’s fan club.
One problem you have at lower-profile events, troublesome fans have better access to the players. They can get closer, usually, and can be heard more easily, always. It’s remarkable that we don’t have more incidents on the small-college level. Being proactive is a great plan. I know of no major issues in Oklahoma small colleges, but in days past, rivalries certainly got heated from time to time. Good to hear that some administrators are taking the issue seriously.