The Crosstown Shootout, an annual game pitting Ohio rivals Cincinnati and Xavier against one another, will have a new home for at least the next two seasons. For the first time in a quarter century, the rivalry is shifting to a neutral site. The game, which has become the signature out of conference matchup for each school, will be played at the U.S. Bank Arena in downtown Cincinnati in December 2012 and December 2013.
The change comes in the wake of the brawl that erupted with 9.4 seconds left during last year’s meeting at Xavier’s Cintas Center. The fracas, which resulted in 30 games worth of collective suspensions and the bloodied left eye of Musketeers big man Kenny Frease, put an immediate damper on Xavier’s decisive 76-53 win. And now, Yancy Gates’ sucker punch on Frease will do away with the home-and-home arrangement—for now—that has been in effect for the last 25 years. The game has alternated between the home courts of Cincinnati and Xavier since 1989, though it was played at U.S. Bank Arena—then called Riverfront Coliseum—from 1976 to 1983.
School officials agreed to move the rivalry game to a neutral court in hopes of improving the climate surrounding the game. But one can’t help but wonder if a neutral location will only increase the risk of violence either in the stands or on the court. Instead of holding a predominantly one-sided crowd—which would reduce the opportunity for chaos in the seats—the stands will now comprise of an even blend of each fan base. Uh-oh. Fans of all kind will be distributed amongst one another in one giant sea of red, black and blue (hopefully less emphasis on the black and blue). That would certainly raise the likelihood of incidents breaking out in the seats. But does it lessen the risk of players coming to blows on the hardwood like school officials believe? I don’t see how.
Yancy Gates froze Frease with a haymaker on his left eye socket because Gates was undisciplined and unrestrained, not because the game was played on Xavier’s home court. When Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons proceeded to taunt and jeer Cincy players during the waning minutes of the game, the inherent immaturity of the two teammates was to blame. Not the venue. Holloway and Lyons were no less likely to get caught up in the heat of the moment playing at U.S. Bank Arena or the team’s practice facility. This was a 23-point drubbing in the Crosstown Shootout. Emotions ran high. The score, not the scene, had escalated matters. The Cintas Center on that afternoon was nothing more than an incidental backdrop.
After the two-year trial period, the conduct of the players and fans will be reassessed according to the report, with no assurance that the series will continue in its current form. While the future of this vicious, inter-city rivalry remains at-large, one thing is for sure. If the Crosstown Shootout happens to pass its test over this next trial run, it will be because the players involved brushed up on their act, not because U.S. Bank Arena is any less conducive to violent behavior. In the meantime, school officials ought to worry about ramping up security. The real threat of danger lies in the crowd, not on the court.