COLUMBIA, S.C.—Clemson and South Carolina have both forfeited bowl bids, an unprecedented punishment after players brawled near the end of Saturday’s rivalry game.
South Carolina athletic director Mike McGee said Monday the Gamecocks’ actions on the field were not consistent with the values and ethics of the school.
McGee called the joint agreement on penalties unprecedented.
“This decision will have a significant financial impact on USC athletics. We will also lose a month of pre-bowl practice,” McGee said. “It was a decision that had to be made.”
Clemson athletics director Terry Don Phillips said the decision isn’t fair to most players who didn’t fight.
“But given the circumstances, I believe strongly that it is the right decision so that our university, our student-athletes, supporters and all people that love Clemson know without question what our values are,” he said.
Clemson University Police Chief Gregory Harris said he didn’t expect any criminal charges. “We’re allowing, basically, the university’s athletic department to deal with its players for their behavior,” Harris said.
The brawl broke out with about six minutes left in the game. It started when Tigers defensive lineman Bobby Williamson took down South Carolina quarterback Syvelle Newton and appeared to linger too long on top of him.
Gamecock offensive lineman Chris White came to Newton’s defense. Several Clemson defenders joined the fray and soon players rushed on the field from both sidelines.
South Carolina coach Lou Holtz, in his last game after 33 seasons, and Clemson coach Tommy Bowden tried to break up the brawl. But the mobs of players stretched nearly 60 yards along the field. Clemson’s Yusef Kelly flung a Gamecock helmet into the stands. South Carolina running back Daccus Turman cold-cocked Clemson’s Duane Coleman in the back of the neck.
Eventually, security and police officers were needed to restore order.
ESPN college football analyst Rod Gilmore, a three-year starter at Stanford, was in the network’s studio when he saw the footage. He was quickly disgusted and embarrassed for retiring South Carolina coach Lou Holtz, Gilmore said by phone Monday night.
Gilmore expected some individual bowl suspension, not the actions take by administrators at both schools. “I hope the rest of the country sits up and takes notice,” Gilmore said.
Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive said the decision to decline bowl bids should show people that “intercollegiate athletics will not tolerate the kind of behavior we saw” at Saturday’s game.
The Atlantic Coast Conference supported Clemson’s actions, league commissioner John Swofford said. School officials “have taken an extraordinary and decisive stance in addressing this issue,” the commissioner said.
Both conferences say they will continue reviewing the fight to see if additional penalties are warranted.
At his retirement announcement, Holtz put in a pitch for his Gamecocks to play in a bowl game. But university President Andrew Sorensen said to dismiss the violence because it happened on the football field “is the rankest form of hypocrisy and very simply cannot be countenanced.”
“This university does not approve of hooliganism at any place, at any time,” Sorensen said.
McGee said player suspensions will be forthcoming. He said the school, which was mostly likely headed to the Independence Bowl, could lose more than $1 million.
Clemson President James F. Barker endorsed Phillips’ decision and said the university would not take further action against the student-athletes involved.
“For the most part, the clear majority of our team was trying to do what was right,” Phillips said. “They were out there trying to protect their teammates, trying to defend their teammates.”
Trevor Matich, a former Brigham Young center and current ESPN analyst, applauded the steps taken by Clemson and South Carolina. But he wondered if the quick action by both schools came in part because of Indiana Pacers-Detroit Pistons brawl Friday night. “They might not have gone to this extent so fast,” he said.
NBA commissioner David Stern was asked about the college brawl as he announced penalties for the basketball fight. “The spectacle of state troopers having to separate college kids is part of the same problem that we’re all dealing with,” Stern said.
South Carolina players were told of the school’s decision by McGee. They quickly scattered to their cars with belongings and mementoes of their winning season.
“I thought some players were going to be suspended,” Gamecocks center John Strickland said. “I didn’t think we were going to be sitting home during Christmas for the third year straight.”