Juwan Howard suspended after postgame fight against Wisconsin

Photo courtesy of MGoBlog, Flickr.

In Juwan Howard’s third season as the University of Michigan men’s basketball coach, he was just starting to build a notable reputation for himself. 

Howard was named the 2021 Associated Press National Coach of the Year. He was the recipient of the United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) Henry Iba Award and earned the title of National Coach of the Year by The Athletic and The Sporting News. Howard was also named the Big Ten Coach of the Year. He was selected as the USBWA’s District V Coach of the Year and the National Association of Basketball Coaches District 7 Coach of the Year.

All of these accomplishments will be forgotten about in light of the postgame punch Howard threw on Sunday, Feb. 20. After what seemed to be a normal ending to a game, it quickly switched gears and turned into an unexpected physical conflict.

The University of Michigan lost to Wisconsin 77-63. As the teams lined up to shake hands, Wisconsin’s head coach Greg Gard attempted to grab Howard’s arm to talk to him about why he called a timeout with seconds left in the game even though his team had a 15-point lead. 

Howard retaliated with a heated exchange and threw a punch, hitting Wisconsin’s assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft. Howard claimed he was defending himself after Gard had touched him. Players and other coaches from each team had to step in and separate the brawl.

The Big Ten fined Gard $10,000 for violating its sportsmanship policy with the timeout. Howard was suspended and fined $40,000. The Wolverines will now be without Howard for at least five games as they try to make a push for postseason play. The Big Ten conference suspended Michigan players Terrance Williams II and Moussa Diabate, and Wisconsin player Jahcobi Neath for one game each. 

Besides the punch, one of the biggest things that has come to the surface is the discussion of postgame handshakes. Even though the handshake line is meant to be a show of good sportsmanship, for the sake of preventing more incidents like this, most agree the solution is to eliminate them altogether.

The peak of emotions in a game is usually when the final buzzer goes off. It is not ideal for opponents to engage shortly after. Those in favor of eliminating the postgame handshakes feel that if there was no such thing, Howard would not have had an opportunity to throw a punch.

Georgetown men’s basketball coach Patrick Ewing is encouraging an end to the postgame handshake line in the aftermath of the incident. 

“I don’t like it because anything is possible. You’re just getting through a heated battle, a heated game and anything can happen to make things worse, which is what happened in that situation,”  Ewing stated to reporters at Audacy Sports. “If it’s my call, I think we should just take away the handshake line. Just do like we did last year in Covid. You wave bye and you move on.” 

Michigan State men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo feels the opposite. When asked about eliminating the handshake, he told reporters in a postgame press conference, “That, to me, would be the biggest farce, joke, ridiculous nature of anything I’ve ever heard of. We’ve already taught these poor 18-year-olds that when you’re told to go to class and you don’t like it, you can leave.”

“We’ve already told these kids that if you’re not happy, you can do something else. We’ve already told these kids that it’s hard to hold them accountable,” Izzo continued. “And now we’re going to tell them to not man up and walk down a line on someone who’s kicked your butt and have enough class to shake their hand is utterly ridiculous. That’s the benefit of having the postgame handshakes.” 

Since the incident, Howard has taken time to reflect and apologize for his unacceptable actions and words. Yet, it is unknown what will happen with his future, and the future of the postgame handshake in college sports.