C-USA fails to send strong message

February, 25, 2011
SEC commissioner Mike Slive started a trend of suspending a head coach for a significant indiscretion by sitting Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl for eight SEC games.

The NCAA's committee on infractions took the lead and penalized Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun for the first three games of the Big East season in 2011-12.

Pearl was forced to sit because he misled NCAA investigators about a cookout at his house that had high school juniors in attendance on an unofficial visit. Calhoun is being punished for failing to create an atmosphere of compliance in the recruitment of Nate Miles.

The trend is to discipline coaches for their actions or their inability to police their staffs.

Conference USA must not be paying attention to the news.

Twice this season Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky has had an opportunity to send a strong message to his conference and coaches everywhere. But he whiffed on both occasions.

Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy was ejected from a game at Marshall on Jan. 8. His behavior was so threatening that a policeman had to come onto the court to escort him off the floor.

Then on Wednesday, in a odd coincidence, Eustachy's good friend, UTEP coach Tim Floyd, was ejected from a game at East Carolina and had to be escorted off the court by a policeman. Floyd's longtime assistant Phil Johnson was also ejected but at least he walked off without the help of police.

Conference USA spokesperson Courtney Morrison-Archer said it is standard game-operating procedure to have a policeman escort a coach off the floor if he doesn't leave. One of the officials who worked one of the games told ESPN.com that is the case. Police are expected to come onto the court and help the officials if the coach won't get off the floor.

The obvious response from Banowsky should have been to suspend Eustachy and Floyd for a game. Banowsky discussed the possibility of suspending Eustachy with Southern Miss in January and did the same with UTEP on Thursday. But in both cases he chose to issue a statement admonishing the action and calling it unacceptable.

Banowsky said this in a statement Thursday:

"I have spoken with [UTEP Athletics Director] Bob Stull and [UTEP Head Coach] Tim Floyd about the ejections in last night's game. When a coach is ejected, I expect them to leave the floor. Coach Floyd's actions were unacceptable. I have made our expectations clear going forward and do not expect this to happen again."

But didn't it already happen in the conference? It did with Eustachy, and the rest of the coaches should have seen him suspended in January so that another occurrence would warrant the same penalty.

Floyd and Eustachy have been highly successful during their careers. They both had meltdown moments. And they both should have been suspended for a game. The NCAA and the SEC have sent a strong message to coaches that a violation, or failing to prevent a violation within the program, won't be tolerated without a coach having to face a consequence of missing his team's game. The Big East suspended former Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez for his postgame antics.

How is this behavior not in line for a suspension? One coach said Thursday that the message sent by Banowsky to younger coaches is that you can behave in this manner and still get away without any real penalty.

Conference USA doesn't have a dominant team this season. The league may only get one bid. But the competitive basketball being played among Memphis, Southern Miss, UAB, UTEP coupled with the turnarounds by SMU, Tulsa and Marshall and to some extent East Carolina and Central Florida, are now overshadowed by how the league handled Eustachy and Floyd.

Banowsky is on the NCAA's committee on infractions. He knows about how to penalize a coach to ensure it matters. The COI isn't supposed to be in the business of sending a message. But a conference commissioner can dole out punishment to do just that. Banowsky failed to do so and his league is the lesser for it.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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