NCAA rules demand that a player who throws a punch in a game get an automatic one-game suspension. Brittney Griner's coach gave her one more to grow on but even if that's normal, it's not really what she deserves.
The general consensus seems to be that a two-game suspension isn't a fitting punishment for breaking someone's nose. But when evaluating the fairness of it, two questions must be asked. Is it a typical suspension based on the offense and is Griner being treated differently because she's a girl? The answers are yes, and not really.
The truth is that when you look at the punishments typically handed down for basketball fights, two games is about what you should expect. Oklahoma State's Andrea Riley took a swing at LSU's Erica White in an NCAA tournament game in 2008 and got a one-game suspension. (From the tournament. She still hasn't served it, because OSU hasn't been back.) The NBA's Trevor Ariza got one game back in December for swinging and missing at DeMar DeRozan. Ditto Jamaal Magloire and Detroit's Jonas Jerebko for their preseason slap fight. In college, Michigan's Zack Novak got the same punishment, not for a punch, but for a flagrant foul when he clocked Ohio State's P.J. Hill with an elbow. No matter the level or the gender, the circumstances don't seem to make a difference. Crossing the line between hard play and fighting is good for a one-game vacation. Two, if you're really a prick about it.
Even in the most notorious moment in WNBA history—an ugly on-court scuffle between Detroit and L.A—ten players and a coach were suspended, but only one player got more than two games. And those most severely punished were the players who came off the bench.
Believe it or not, the Big 12 seems to agree that leaving the bench is the more severe offense here. Their statement about Griner's suspension spends more words chastising the teams for not controlling their subs than it does criticizing the person who actually injured someone. The same holds for the men's game, where simply wandering too far from your chair is on par with an unprovoked physical attack.
So why did football's LeGarrette Blount get eight games—three quarters of a college season—for punching a player in the chin? Not only is football a much more physical and violent activity, but basketball is the sport with the richer history of extracurricular slugfests. Dr. J. vs. Bird. The Knicks and Heat. The Knicks and Bulls. The Knicks and everyone. Kermit Washington's haymaker on Rudy Tomjanovich is the most brutal on-field incident American sports have ever seen, yet basketball still considers fighting to a nuisance, not a problem that should be eliminated. The punishments are hardly more severe than they are in hockey where fighting is a hallowed part of the game.
However, even hockey knows that the outcome of an incident should have a bearing on the official response. Take all the swings that you want , but if you really hurt someone you're going to pay for it. Jordan Barncastle will probably need surgery on her broken nose and it's still not clear when, or if, she'll play basketball again this year. Griner will likely miss less time than she does. It was not a typical fight, therefore she deserves more than the typical punishment.
If basketball doesn't want to do anything serious about fighting, that's fine, but they should do something about an unnecessary and preventable injury. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like anyone is interested in teaching that lesson this time.
[ESPN Talking Head Montage by video machine David Matthews]