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Fan behavior can ruin the game

With March Madness just weeks away, I’d like to talk about a national phenomenon which may be harmful to the exciting atmosphere that makes NCAA basketball – men’s and women’s – one of the most popular draws on every college campus. That phenomenon is erratic fan behavior.

I’ve attended games of all of the major professional team sports – excluding the NHL – and the most noticeable difference between college and pro sporting events is the conduct of the fans.

Obviously, there are a handful of morons at every sporting event. It appears some people believe that since they paid the ticket price they can say whatever they like to whomever they feel deserves it, be it players, coaches, referees or opposing fans.

Some of the fan conduct I have seen at college sporting events is similar to the behavior one would expect to see at a WWE event. It’s as though these people don’t understand that you can be passionate about your team without going so far as hurling profanity – or objects – at people who are just doing their job.

Where a public basketball event differs from all the other team sporting events is in its fan interaction. At no other team sports event are the fans so close to the action. The interaction between fans and players is what makes basketball such a fan-friendly event on both the collegiate and the professional level.

But this aspect can also prove destructive. The lack of a buffer between the fans and court can be dangerous for players, coaches, fans and game staff. Nothing may be more evident of this danger than the brawl that broke out between the Detroit Pistons and the Indianapolis Pacers, which spilled deep into the stands and involved the fans.

While USF basketball doesn’t draw sellout crowds like schools such as Duke University, there is still a great turnout when nationally ranked programs visit. Some of the conduct I’ve seen at these games falls nothing short of ridiculous, with the majority of the embarrassing behavior coming from the student section.

It was brought to my attention that at Saturday’s women’s basketball game against Rutgers University, two individuals wore shirts supporting Don Imus, the man who caused a national outrage with his disparaging comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team.

At the beginning of each game a warning is announced over the PA system stating that any fan guilty of inappropriate conduct will be immediately ejected from the stadium and may be subject to arrest. It’s easier to enforce this rule at USF because the crowds are smaller. Cowardly fans know they can be easily identified, so for the most part they tone down the obnoxious behavior.

However, at a school where the attendance may be 18,000 strong, it’s nearly impossible to enforce this rule.

This year has been a reminder of how poor fan conduct can push a bad situation to the brink of catastrophe. Indiana Hoosier freshman standout Eric Gordon, who verbally committed to Illinois only to renege and sign with Indiana, found his team pitted against the visiting Illinois Redbirds. In addition to being booed and cursed every time he touched the ball, ESPN reported that his family, which was in attendance, had obscenities screamed at them and were hit with ice cubes hurled by rowdy fans.

A tightly contested game between the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the visiting No. 1 Memphis men’s team resulted in a similar situation. When the game clock struck zero with Memphis’ 25-game win streak still intact, there was a physical altercation between student section fans and Memphis players.

These fans’ actions may ultimately result in major changes at college basketball games. The NCAA is teetering on the brink of having a Ron Artest situation on its hands, which could be disastrous for its public relations.

I don’t condone any physical confrontations of fans by players, but I know it’s extremely difficult for student athletes to contain their emotions. They make mistakes like everyone else in that competitive atmosphere, and everyone has a breaking point. The only solution to this problem is for these idiotic fans (most of whom are college students) to act like they have some sense. College students should know better than to engage in this kind of behavior.

Ryan Watson is working toward a degree in performing arts.