Suspension of OSU baseball coach Pat Casey doesn't fit crime
Pat Casey won't be in the dugout when Oregon State — the nation's No. 1-ranked team — opens Pac-12 play Friday night at Berkeley against California. That's a travesty.
OSU's 24th-year head coach was ejected while engaging in an argument with an umpire during last Friday's 5-3 loss to Cal State Fullerton at Goss Stadium. Casey was ruled to have had physical contact with the umpire, Mark Buchanan, which under NCAA bylaws calls for an automatic four-game suspension.
I wasn't at the game. But I've received accounts from several people who were there, including Casey, who declined to comment publicly on the situation.
Casey and Buchanan — working third base that night in a four-man crew — got into it as early as the first inning, when Buchanan ruled a ball hit down the line and off of OSU third baseman Michael Gretler's glove a fair ball. Casey went out to argue, and the call was overturned by plate umpire Patrick Riley.
There were a couple of other disputes of Buchanan calls on check swings that went against the Beavers, including one in the seventh in which Casey left the dugout to argue. Buchanan walked toward Casey to meet him, and in the midst of a discussion that became heated, Casey was given the thumb.
In Buchanan's postgame report to the Pac-12, he wrote that during the altercation, Casey had used no profanity, but that the bill of the coach's cap touched the brow of Buchanan's forehead. That evidently constitutes contact, prohibited under NCAA rule 5-16, which begins, "The rules committee believes there is no place in college baseball for physical abuse of officials or fighting among opponents."
Rule 5-16-b describes "physical abuse" this way: "Any threat of physical intimidation or harm, to include pushing, shoving, contact, kicking dirt on an umpire, spitting, spraying, throwing or attempting to make physical contact."
Though Casey was letting the umpire have it verbally, I think even Buchanan would agree the coach is innocent of any of those actions, except the "contact" part.
The penalty, as listed in the NCAA bylaws: "For the first offense, ejection plus suspension from the team's next four contests. For a second offense in the same season, ejection plus suspension from the team's next five contests. For a third offense in the same season, ejection and suspension for the remainder of the season, including postseason competition."
OSU athletic director Scott Barnes and deputy athletic director Marianne Vydra took the situation to Pac-12 officials, who referred them to the NCAA mandate of a four-game suspension.
Barnes declined my interview request, but sports information director Steve Fenk said an appeals process was explored. OSU officials were told that there is none available.
Chris Radford, associate director of public and media relations for the NCAA, confirmed that Monday afternoon. "There is not a formal appeals process," he wrote in an email.
So Casey was barred from coaching his team in the final two games of the Fullerton series, plus the first two games of the three-game series at Cal this weekend.
The integrity of the game is essential. Officials of all sports need to be protected against both verbal and physical abuse. It is the latter that is in play here. And frankly, to call Casey's actions "physical abuse" is beyond a stretch.
Casey didn't notice any contact with Buchanan. If there was, it was inadvertent. The NCAA rule is vague on the issue of "contact." What if it is initiated by the umpire? In this case, Buchanan walked toward Casey when approached about the call. Might he have been moving forward at the same time as Casey?
The four-game mandate for any type of "contact" is just wrong, given the wide variety of "contact" that can occur. An accidental brush of a cap against an umpire's eyebrow is adjudicated in exactly the same way as if a coach shoves an ump, or heaven forbid, cold-cocks him?
Then there is the issue of no appeal process, which is criminal. Whatever happened to due process? Who is making these rules, Vladimir Putin?
This was Casey's second ejection in the last five seasons. It was the first suspension of his 31-year college coaching career.
The NCAA needs to change three things about the rule immediately, if not sooner.
Four games — in a 56-game schedule — is too much for a first offense. One game, perhaps two, is sufficient.
The rules committee must differentiate between the seriousness of actions against the umpire. A brush of a cap isn't the same as a spit to the face or shove to the shoulder.
And there absolutely must be an appeals process. There can be extenuating circumstances that should be factored into any penalty.
Casey may well have deserved an ejection from Buchanan. But to be served an additional four-game suspension? The penalty doesn't fit the crime. It's like be-heading a pedestrian for a jaywalking violation.