The next day, as everyone was trying to sort out the facts, Ohio State's Benny Allison, a black sophomore guard, introduced the theory that it had all been mainly a case of Minnesota blacks against Ohio State whites. Allison said: "It was a racial thing. You will remember that Wardell [Jackson] and I were right out there in the middle of it, just like everybody else, but nobody swung on us. They just passed us up and went for the other guys. Sometimes things like that happen."
It was left to Wayne Duke, commissioner of the Big Ten and a spectator at the game, to fix the blame. He stayed in Minneapolis to view films and talk with Musselman, Behagen and Taylor, among others, then two days later announced that Taylor and Behagen would be suspended for the rest of the season.
The penalty in a way was assessed by both Duke and Minnesota. Before his announcement, the commissioner received a 10 p.m. phone call from Giel informing him that the university had decided to suspend the two players indefinitely. The next morning the Minnesota Athletic Senate said the suspension would last at least until Feb. 15, but by that time Duke had determined on his stiffer penalty. He also cleared up a few points. The investigation, he said, turned up "no evidence" of racial overtones. As to the Buckeyes' part in the affair, he was satisfied that only in the Witte-Nix incident "were charges of excessive physical contact against Ohio State's players at all justified." He said, too, that "the game was under the control of the officials until the final 36 seconds." His interview with Corky Taylor, Duke said, "did not substantiate the charge of spitting"—Taylor amended earlier remarks to say that he thought Witte was going to spit at him—and Duke concluded that the riot was "precipitated" by Taylor's "unsportsmanlike act."
But Duke also left at least two questions hanging. To what extent did Musselman and his program contribute to an atmosphere conducive to violence? And why wasn't Winfield also suspended? Many people, particularly Ohioans, felt that the penalties imposed were not commensurate with the seriousness of acts that Duke himself termed "unprecedented" and "unacceptable in our society." In what was easily his most thought-provoking comment of the day, Duke said, "As you look back at it, isn't it terrible to say 'we were fortunate'?"
Fights always have been a deplorable part of college basketball, a game that thrives on emotion and contact. Lately, though, the brawls have developed in number and intensity to the point where thoughtful basketball people are concerned about the sport's direction. Millions saw the recent donnybrook between South Carolina and Marquette on TV. That was sobering enough, but Ohio State-Minnesota was different—and far worse. Instead of a fight erupting from blows struck in the heat of competition, this was a cold, brutal attack, governed by the law of the jungle. It could be considered the inevitable result of the malaise that afflicts the sport these days, a stunning example of responsibility abdicated by a coach, the players he recruited and taught and the fans who followed them. Musselman made no attempt to stop the fight and showed no remorse afterward. As Fred Taylor said, "There's more at stake here than basketball games."
Taylor and his team moved on to Ann Arbor for a game with Michigan at the end of last week. Playing without Witte or Wagar, the Buckeyes were beaten by the Wolverines 88-78 for their first league loss in five games. (On the same day, Minnesota, minus Behagen and Taylor, to whom the Gophers dedicated the game, won 61-50 over Iowa and thus tied Michigan for the Big Ten lead with a 5-1 record.) Ohio State was called for 32 fouls to Michigan's 18 and afterward Taylor said, "What happened at Minnesota had an indirect effect on what happened here.... The officials were afraid that the crowd would come out of the stands again."
By week's end, Luke Witte's face was beginning to heal. "I still have some headaches," he said, "but I am feeling better all the time." He was lucky, maybe, but the sport he wants to play again was not looking so good.