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January 31, 2004

Is Sportsmanship Passe?

FROM OLEAN, NY comes word of the latest Division I basketball blowout: the #3 St. Joseph’s Hawks overwhelmed St. Bonaventure by a 51 point margin. 

As the St. Joe’s juggernaut blitzkrieged the hapless Bonnies, there were appeals for sportsmanship, decency and mercy.  With 12 minutes to go in the first half and the Hawks leading by 47-20, St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli kept hearing (from a fan in the stands), “Why are you pressing, why are you pressing, you’re up 25.” 

That the fan was a librarian by the name of Mary Palmer did not prevent Martelli from verbally assaulting her with the following ungentlemanly and unsportsmanlike statement: “Shut up, you nitwit!  You should be embarrassed by your own team, you moron!”

We have all suffered through the antics and indignities of losing players and coaches; but such stinging rudeness by a winning coach is quite uncommon.

Martelli later did the right thing and called Ms. Palmer, to apologize. “I wish that it didn’t happen,” he said.  There was no explanation of why St. Joe’s was pressing when they were up by 27 points.

The St. Bonaventure Reilly Center, one of college basketball’s loudest and most cramped venues, has historically provided the Bonnies with a huge advantage versus cowed visiting teams.  But the Reilly Center’s usual outrageousness was even more pronounced for the St. Joseph’s game.  “I’ve never been in a place like that.  You couldn’t see the doors.  There was no way out,” said Martelli.  Cattaraugus County fire marshals please take note.

This was truly a game of men versus boys.  The Hawks inflicted an in-your-face dominance that the Bona faithful had never before experienced in the Reilly Center.  Red hot St. Joe’s was 37 of 56 from the field and 17 of 26 on treys.

The Bonnies’ crushing defeat, while humiliating and painful, hardly ranks as one of Division I’s more lopsided games.  Earlier this season, then 14th ranked Oklahoma obliterated Arkansas-Pine Bluff by 70 points, 94-24.  After that debacle, an unrepentant Coach Kelvin Sampson said, “It doesn’t matter if you win by two points or 70.  In the end, it’s a win.”

According to the Official NCAA Basketball Records Book, there have been several basketball games with winning margins more than double the St. Joe’s-St. Bonaventure game.  In 1993, Division III Women’s California Lutheran beat Pacific Christian 124-9—a 115 point margin.  And in 2001, Division II Women’s West Texas A&M creamed National Christian 155-33—a  whopping 122 point margin.  The Division I UConn women’s team averaged a 36.4 winning margin for the entire season.

In college basketball there is no such thing as a mercy rule.  After all, this is not kiddie sports where fun, sportsmanship and lessons in life reign supreme.  However, one would think (perhaps naively) that the dominant teams should dial back a little on scheduling games versus creampuff opponents just for the sake of inflating stats.


Portions of this article were sourced from: The Buffalo News 1-25-04; Philadelphia Daily News 1-28-04, AP of 12-2-03 and the NCAA Basketball Records Book; as well as commentary by College Athletics Clips