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Jim Polzin: Big Ten fails to protect its integrity when given chance to police sportsmanship

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Davison Bohannon

Iowa's Jordan Bohannon guards UW's Brad Davison during the Badgers' 87-78 victory over the Hawkeyes at the Kohl Center on Jan. 6.

No, this isn’t a defense of Brad Davison for things the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball fifth-year senior guard did a long time ago and for which he already has been punished.

Let’s be clear: I thought a one-game suspension was justified when Davison was suspended in late January 2020 for delivering a below-the-belt shot to Iowa’s Connor McCaffery while trying to get around a screen late in a close game in Iowa City. I still believe that nearly two years later.

It instead is me shedding light on some boorish behavior from a UW rival and the Big Ten’s role in allowing it to happen.

Davison has stayed out of trouble for some time now and didn’t do anything dirty in UW’s 87-78 victory over Iowa on Jan. 6, but he still found himself in the middle of a controversy during and after his 18-point performance. A foul call that led to three free throws by Davison in the final minute of the first half and gave the Badgers a 13-point cushion drew the ire of Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery and three of his players, including two of the coach’s sons.

Reasonable people can debate whether it actually was a foul. Davison kicked out his legs, but replays show that Patrick McCaffery made contact with Davison’s hip during the release of the shot.

The reaction from the Hawkeyes was, as it often is, over the top. Worse yet, Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren and his top assistants in the league office haven’t done enough to defend the integrity of the conference.

Connor McCaffery tweeted after the game that “all 3 refs should be embarrassed to continue falling for this (expletive) … do something about it @bigten — comical at this point.”

At least McCaffery was smart enough to delete his tweet. Or someone at Iowa was smart enough to instruct him to do so.

The same can’t be said for Iowa sixth-year senior guard Jordan Bohannon, who was bickering with a reporter who covers UW (not me) on Twitter the day after the Hawkeyes’ loss to the Badgers. Bohannon thought it was laughable that the reporter compared the Patrick McCaffery foul on Davison to a controversial foul call on D’Mitrik Trice against Bohannon that led to three critical points late in the host Hawkeyes’ 77-73 victory over UW in the 2020-21 regular-season finale.

From there, Bohannon dropped a bomb: “From the Big Ten head of officials, Brad Davidson (sic) has been a ‘Marked Guy in the league’ for the past three years.”

More than a week later, that post is still there to see for Bohannon’s 31,000-plus followers. And for Rick Boyages, the Big Ten vice president of men’s basketball and coordinator of men’s basketball officials, to see.

The two questions I immediately had after seeing Bohannon’s tweet: Is Boyages really telling people at Iowa, or elsewhere in the Big Ten, that Davison is a “marked guy in the league?” Because if that’s the case, it’s wholly inappropriate and something Warren needs to address.

The Big Ten denied Friday morning that Boyages had said that to Bohannon or anyone at Iowa.

So if those words didn’t come out of Boyages’ mouth, then why was Bohannon not suspended or publicly reprimanded for making that claim?

Either scenario damages the integrity of the Big Ten. When the conference suspended Davison in 2020, it cited the Big Ten Sportsmanship Policy, which in part states in its second sentence that “the Big Ten Conference expects all contests involving a member institution to be conducted without compromise to any fundamental element of sportsmanship. Such fundamental elements include integrity of the competition, civility toward all, and respect, particularly toward opponents and officials.”

Seems to me Connor McCaffery and Bohannon weren’t being all that civil with Davison or the three officials — Kelly Pfeifer, Don Daily and Brian Dorsey — who worked that game.

The same policy later states that while it “will apply most commonly to actions that occur within or around the competitive arena, the scope of its application is intentionally left unrestricted in order to accommodate any behavior, which may occur in any setting, deemed by the Commissioner to offend the underlying objective this policy seeks to achieve.”

Social media is a game-changer and players now can use Twitter or Instagram to air their grievances. This sportsmanship policy was written in 2013. But that’s no excuse for the Big Ten, which should have updated its policy long ago to address situations like this.

A series of emails to the Big Ten communications staff seeking a response about whether Connor McCaffery or Jordan Bohannon would be reprimanded in some fashion was sent Jan. 7, the morning after UW’s win over Iowa, and didn’t generate a response until Tuesday.

The Big Ten at that point provided in an email four bullet-point details:

  • We typically do not comment on the review of any particular case unless the review results in a public statement.
  • Our office frequently reviews situations to determine whether a violation of the sportsmanship policy occurred.
  • Some reviews result in a determination that a violation occurred, but some do not.
  • In instances in which there is a determination that a violation occurred, corrective action may vary. Some violations include a public statement by the conference, but some do not.

While Warren likely had been made aware of the storm brewing on social media, it’s possible that my pursuit of answers that would help me be as fair and accurate as possible in this column didn’t cross his desk until I sent him a text message Friday morning. I received an email 32 minutes later from a member of the Big Ten communications staff saying he’d been forwarded the message to Warren and wanted to talk.

About four hours after that initial conversation with two members of the Big Ten communications staff came a statement from the conference:

“This occurrence was handled consistently with other similar past occurrences,” it read. “All reviews of potential violations of our sportsmanship policy and any actions taken — public or private — are shared annually with our membership to ensure that the policy is being administered in a reasonable, fair, and consistent manner.”

An Iowa spokesperson directed me to the Big Ten office when asked for comment on whether Connor McCaffery or Bohannon were reprimanded.

UW declined comment. The No. 13 Badgers (14-2, 5-1 Big Ten) followed that win over Iowa with victories over Maryland and No. 16 Ohio State, with Davison averaging 18.0 points in the two wins since he was called out by Iowa.

Davison, for his part, probably would prefer his name be kept out of this. Fair enough.

But at some point the Big Ten needs to be called out when it either doesn’t follow its own policies or those policies need to be updated. The conference should have taken a stand after its officials and a player from one of its member institutions were publicly trashed by the Hawkeyes.

Unless, of course, the Big Ten really does consider Davison a marked guy in its conference.

Fave 5: Jim Polzin picks his favorite stories of 2021

Jim Polzin stepped into a new role in June, going from University of Wisconsin men’s basketball beat reporter to Lee Sports Wisconsin columnist.

Polzin wore both hats later that month when, on back-to-back days, he broke the news about seven seniors confronting coach Greg Gard in a secretly recorded meeting during the 2020-21 season and followed up with a column about how that recording had exposed cracks in the program’s foundation.

Neither one of those pieces made the list of Polzin’s favorite stories for 2021.

Contact Jim Polzin at jpolzin@madison.com.

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