CLEMSON - The idea of keeping his football team from accepting a bowl invitation this December was troubling to Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips. Yet Monday that's exactly what he did.
Calling it one of the most difficult decisions he's ever made, Phillips met with the media Monday evening just hours after informing the football team, head coach Tommy Bowden and his staff that there would be no postseason this year - a direct result of the ugly brawl which marred last Saturday's 29-7 victory over arch rival South Carolina.
Earlier in the day, after Gamecocks' head coach Lou Holtz officially announced his retirement, USC officials also announced their program would not accept a bowl invitation this season.
But despite a number of conversations with USC officials over the last two days - as well as talks with both the ACC and SEC offices - Phillips said ultimately the decision was Clemson's own.
"We talked to them. They made their decision. We made ours," he said. "We made our decision independent of anybody else. This was the recommendation I made to (Clemson President James Barker).
"This is more than just a football issue. The circumstances of what happened Saturday deals with issues of what our university is about. Our university is about having an environment that fosters character and integrity, and conducts itself with class and dignity. We have that duty and obligation not only to our student athletes, but to our students in general.
Phillips said he met with the team at 4 p.m. Monday to break the news, and that the players handled the news "with class."
Head coach Tommy Bowden was not present for the announcement, but was in the meeting after returning from a trip to Birmingham, Ala. One source said that though Bowden wasn't happy with the decision, he told the team they would have to "live with it."
Phillips, looking somewhat disheveled and sleep-deprived, said he took no pleasure in reaching his decision.
"I feel horrible about this recommendation. And in some respects it's not fair to our team because they worked hard," Phillips said. "They started off with an awfully difficult schedule, battled back and won five of their final six games; beat arguably the best team in the conference - Miami at Miami. They were very deserving. Our coaches were very deserving.
"But it's about what this university stands for, and what this athletic program has got to stand for."
Phillips said there were alternatives, most notably suspending the most aggressive offenders and taking the rest on a bowl trip. But that notion ultimately was dismissed.
"Bottom line is this; football is a team sport," he said. "A lot of times if a player busts a play and (the opponent) scores and it affects the outcome of the game the team loses, not just the player who busted the assignment. By analogy, that's how I look at this.
"There were some breakdowns on the field with some of our kids who exercised poor judgment, but for the most part the clear majority of our team was trying to do what was right. They were out there trying to protect their teammates, defend their teammates. They were trying to do what was right.
"But it's still a team. You can't escape that...They're good kids. But sometimes good kids make bad decisions.
Phillips declined to speculate if a similar punishment would have been handed down had Clemson - hypothetically - been in the run for a BCS bid and multimillion dollar payday. He also said the athletic department's financial situation, and the fact that accepting a bowl invitation to a location like Boise, Idaho, might cost the school money, played no part in his final decision.
He did acknowledge that the decision wasn't a popular one, and that likely some fans might never forgive him.
"I know there are a lot of people who don't like it. I'm sure there are some who have already made up their minds," he said.
Saturday's brawl is the latest in a string of incidents involving Clemson athletes.
Back in the spring wide receiver Airese Currie was involved in fight with a pair of Florida State athletes during a track and field road trip. Arrests were made in the altercation, but Currie was widely considered the victim and wasn't charged.
Then earlier this month freshman basketball player Troy Mathis was suspended from school for a semester and prohibited from playing competitively for Clemson for a year after a large on-campus fight which reportedly involved 23 students, including other Tiger basketball players.
But Phillips said none of those incidents played any role in his decision Monday.
Neither, he said, did the much publicized NBA fracas between Detroit and Indiana which happened the night before.
"This was treated as a completely separate issue," he said.
Phillips said that he would look into the matter of bonuses due Bowden and his staff had they gone to a bowl, intimating they could see those paychecks regardless of Monday's decision.
"They worked hard and are deserving," Phillips said. "I'll have to give that situation a good, hard look."
In the official statement released by the school, President Barker said no additional punishment would be handed down to the players.