Michigan vs. Wisconsin fight: Did Wolverines coach Juwan Howard deserve his five-game suspension?

The sports world is buzzing with reaction to the postgame fight involving Michigan and Wisconsin on Sunday. On Monday, the Big Ten announced penalties for the brawl, including a five game suspension and $40,000 fine for Michigan coach Juwan Howard. In addition Wisconsin coach Greg Gard was fined $10,000 for violating the conference’s sportsmanship policy, but was not suspended.

The Big Ten also suspended three players one game for the altercation following the Badgers’ 77-63 win on Sunday with Michigan’s Moussa Diabate and Terrance Williams II, and Jahcobi Neath of Wisconsin sitting out their team’s next game

But is Howard’s punishment too much, not enough or about right for an incident that was highlighted by his open-handed strike on Wisconsin assistant Joe Krabbenhoft? Howard’s defenders would have you believe that he was the true victim — provoked by Greg Gard’s late timeout and by Gard’s attempt to stop Howard in the postgame handshake line. There’s also the uncertainty surrounding what Krabbenhoft may have said to provoke Howard.

But while it’s incumbent upon Michigan and the Big Ten to parse through the clutter and figure out exactly what happened, the raw video is unkind to Howard.

So, based on what we knew Monday morning, our writers weigh in for this edition of the Dribble Handoff:

Gary Parrish: Howard should be suspended, but not terminated 

Let’s define the baseline of punishment at suspension: I would imagine Greg Gard gets no suspension. The players who threw punches on video will face a suspension. And Juwan Howard’s going to face a suspension. I think it stops short of termination, although, there were plenty of people — even like legitimate media people — saying he should be terminated for what he did. I’ll stop short of that. I don’t like throwing around termination for one bad moment. But does he deserve to be punished in some way? Yes. . . Whatever the punishments are, the most severe is going to be aimed in the direction of Juwan Howard.

Matt Norlander: Five-game suspension for Howard

I can only speak to what’s practical after what transpired on Sunday. If the Big Ten decided to sit Gard for at least a game, I think that would have been fair. It could have been multiple games for Krabbenhoft, who escalated matters, and Badgers assistant Sharif Chambliss, who appears to physically confront Michigan player Terrance Williams. The players seen throwing punches — Williams, Michigan’s Moussa Diabate and Wisconsin’s Jahcobi Neath — deserve to sit one game. The league can’t tolerate any punches thrown, ever, and as expected those institutions concurred with a one-game suspension for those players. 

But the players did not instigate this nor start this. Howard is the primary offender and he should serve the worst punishment. A five-game suspension feels appropriate. (That’s the rest of Michigan’s regular season.) No, he shouldn’t be fired. A season-ending suspension wouldn’t have surprised me, and given his encounter with Mark Turgeon during last year’s Big Ten Tournament, the precedent set there could have played a part. The question was, how much of this was enacted by Michigan vs. what the league could have done on top of Michigan’s discipline? The two universities and the conference worked in conjunction (to an extent) on this, but ultimately it’s up to the conference’s discretion and commissioner Kevin Warren to approve all disciplinary action.

Kyle Boone: Howard should sit rest of regular season

Howard’s punishment from the Big Ten was the stiffest among everyone involved in Sunday’s incident, but it seems to have fit the crime here. A $40,000 fine from the Big Ten is a slap on the wrist for him but a five-game suspension — which is what I expected — sends a statement that what happened was unacceptable, especially with the Wolverines in the middle of a chase to earn a tourney bid. I’m surprised neither Wisconsin coach Greg Gard nor any of the other coaches involved didn’t at least earn suspensions from the league along with Howard, but the $10,000 fine for Gard at least acknowledges Howard isn’t solely culpable for the events in Madison. With three players also getting suspensions on top of it, it feels like the league for the most part did its diligence and was fair in doling out punishments.

David Cobb: Howard deserves more than Gard’s punishment

Three games, five games, 10 games. The length of suspension didn’t matter to me so much as the proportionality does. It couldn’t have been an equal suspension for Gard like much of Howard’s hive seems to want.

Gard deserved to be punished for his role, yes. But whatever he got (no suspension, but a $10,000 fine) should have been no more than roughly 20% of whatever Howard got.  It was Howard’s decision to continue with a full-court press while down 15 with under a minute to play that prompted the Wisconsin timeout. The Badgers had walk-ons and reserves in the game, and if a timeout by Gard in that situation was against the game’s unwritten rules, then wasn’t Michigan’s continued use of the press also a poor display of sportsmanship?

Then, there’s also the reality that Gard had coolly gone through nine members of Michigan’s handshake line before reaching Howard, who can clearly be seen saying something to Gard. So the idea that Howard was just calmly headed to the locker room before Gard placed hands on him doesn’t hold up. it’s understandable that Gard wanted to defend himself against whatever Howard was saying. But by placing his hands on Howard, he forfeited his claim to innocence. There should have also be some punishment for the other coaches and players involved. But as for the two-most visible participants — Howard and Gard — proportion seems like the most important element. Whatever punishment Howard gets, Gard’s should be considerably less. 

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