COLUMBIA — "MizzouGate" hasn’t nearly died down, although it’s been quiet since the last sparring session.
South Carolina athletics director Ray Tanner confirmed he has spoken with Missouri AD Jim Sterk about Sterk’s pointed comments toward women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley, but that the conversation remains private. Tanner was asked at a Board of Trustees meeting Friday if Sterk had apologized for claiming that Staley promotes a hostile basketball atmosphere at Colonial Life Arena.
“I will not disclose any contents of the conversation,” Tanner said. “I’ll just say that our commissioner is very concerned about what transpired and he called us together to have a meeting, we discussed it at length. I’m hoping in the near future there will be some sort of resolution.”
Staley confirmed Friday that she has not received an apology from Sterk. Asked if she was considering legal action, Staley said, “that’s to be announced at a later date.”
Tanner did say he thought a public apology was necessary.
“Let me make one thing perfectly clear — Jim Sterk and I are not at odds. We’re colleagues in this league, we work well together,” he said. “But I was clear that my opinion is a public apology would be appropriate. I don’t think he’s offended by my statement.”
BOT member Chuck Allen had his own opinion of Sterk’s comments.
“That’s nothing but sour-grapes loser talk,” Allen said.
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey declined to comment to The Post and Courier last week after releasing a statement earlier in the day. Part of that statement said, “Competition among SEC teams is highly intense but can never compromise the expectation of respect between our institutions.”
The situation began Jan. 28, when USC beat Missouri in the second game of the regular-season series. A charged Colonial Life Arena crowd was ready for the Tigers, who beat the Gamecocks Jan. 7 in a game that had Staley complaining about officiating and later saying that some of Missouri’s fouls were “not basketball plays.”
In the second game, Missouri star Sophie Cunningham was booed every time she touched the ball and a fracas erupted near the end of the second quarter. Cunningham, USC guard Doniyah Cliney, USC forward Alexis Jennings and others were involved, with Cunningham and Cliney receiving flagrant fouls and two Missouri players ejected for leaving the bench.
The game finished without incident but former Missouri player Sierra Michaelis, who attended the game, claimed she saw USC fans spitting on the Tigers as they left the playing floor. Coach Robin Pingeton never confirmed or denied the alleged spitting but said she was disappointed in some fans’ actions and it needed to be cleaned up.
Sterk took it way further than that, and way further than simply backing up his coach.
Sterk claimed that USC fans also used racial slurs toward the Missouri players and that Staley promoted that kind of atmosphere. “It’s unfortunate that she felt she had to do that,” he said.
That brought a response from Tanner, who said he investigated the allegations of spitting (no evidence was found) and that it was “confusing” for Sterk to be challenging Staley, one of the most decorated figures in the sport.
Staley said then that the allegations were serious, false and would be handled, but not in the manner they were dealt. All Sterk has said since is when he quoted Forrest Gump by saying that’s all he had to say about it.
Tanner expressed his wish for a quick resolution. The two teams could meet again in the postseason.
“Things happen,” Tanner said. “It’s not the worst thing that happens in sports, but things do happen, and I would like to see it come to a conclusion, and let’s play basketball down the stretch.”