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Iona-Monmouth melee killed an instant classic; we should kill the handshake line

Sporting News logo Sporting News 1/16/2016 Mike DeCourcy

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It was as purely entertaining as any game this side of Oklahoma-Kansas. Monmouth traveled to Iona for another of those Friday night “MAAC-tion” treats they dish up weekly on ESPNU, and the two teams did not require three overtimes to each top 100 points.

This is not what we’ll remember from Monmouth’s victory, though. Is it? We will not remember that the Hawks took a nice step forward in the Metro Atlantic race, earning a victory that might help them in pursuit of an at-large bid. We won’t remember that Iona’s A.J. English scored 45 points and grabbed seven steals, or that Monmouth’s tiny Justin Robinson scored 29 and dominated the game.

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We’ll remember that somebody struck somebody in the handshake line.

Which is one more good reason for the handshake line to be banished to history along with peach baskets and canvas sneakers.

Unlike those items, which were state of the art at the time, the handshake line always has been a phony contrivance done for the benefit of television cameras. It is as real as the “love” you might see on The Bachelor. It has nothing to do with sportsmanship.

Sportsmanship is not blowing through, going through the motions of shaking the opposing coach’s hand. Do you know how much the losing coach in that line is hoping the winning coach doesn’t stop him to say something more than “good job?”

There is a particular coach whom others in the business scorn for his insistence on always needing to magnanimously present a short lecture to the poor losing coach. If all the losing coach is looking for is a quick path to the exit after defeat, he’s not being a sportsman by going through the handshake line. He’s fulfilling a mandate.

There are lots of people in the media who love postgame handshakes. You know why? Because when they don’t happen, or don’t happen properly, they’re a huge story. They’re an excuse to abandon the routine accounting of the game that was contested and instead fixate on the unusual.

What occurred following Monmouth’s victory will be remembered a long time. After the Hawks ran out the final seconds, the television cameras followed coach King Rice through the handshake routine and then suddenly there was a commotion behind him. It peaked when Iona forward Jordan Washington reached out and slapped Monmouth center Chris Brady in the cheek. Washington, who scored 21 points and grabbed 8 rebounds in the loss, could be suspended for his actions.

And so he will go into our memory banks along with the Detroit Pistons who walked off the court with time remaining in the 1991 NBA playoff loss to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins refusing to shake Xavier coach Pete Gillen’s hand at the end of the 1994 Crosstown Shootout, LeBron James walking off without a handshake in the 2009 conference finals against Orlando and Indiana coach Tom Crean’s harangue of Michigan assistant Jeff Meyer following a 2013 regular season game.

Only last week, Cincinnati Bengals tackle Andrew Whitworth was lauded for being one of the few Bengals who remained on the field long enough to shake the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers who eliminated his team from the NFL playoffs — the implication being that those Bengals who departed were not behaving in a sportsmanlike manner.

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Here’s the thing: Sportsmanship is not the show one stages after the game. It’s what goes on inside the competition as it happens.

It is not sportsmanlike to attempt to injure another player, and certainly not to endeavor to disguise that attempt as a legitimate competitive act.

It is not sportsmanlike to exaggerate an injury to draw a punishment against an opponent, as in soccer, nor to exaggerate the effect of contact to elicit a foul call against the opponent, as in basketball.

I saw one college basketball player this week slap himself in the chest and scream like he’d performed some sort of tough-guy heroics. And what had he done? By throwing his body backward with force and velocity after an opponent gently brushed his shoulder, he’d tricked a ref into calling a charge against that opponent.

A little less than two hours later, his team lost.

I’m sure he was in that handshake line, though.

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