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July 28, 2004

Home Fans Behaving Badly

FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND comes a last chance series of “voluntary” measures to tone down student nastiness at Terrapins home basketball games.

By no means do Maryland fans stand alone in their tendencies toward tawdry and tasteless conduct. Indeed, the phenomenon of fans becoming participants—rather than merely spectators—has become standard practice at dozens of college campuses across the land.

Fan histrionics had historically been confined to pro sports. Notorious for below-the-belt name-calling, catcalls and blatant home-team jingoism, pro sports fans have always considered it their inalienable right to behave badly. After all, they paid for their tickets, and it’s a free country, isn’t it?

Members of the Perennially Rude Hall of Shame have included fans of the 70s Philadelphia Flyer “Broad Street Bullies” era, the old Cleveland Browns “Dawgs,” Yankees-versus-Red Sox fans (you pick the decade), plus various dalliances of noteworthy bad taste demonstrated by fans of the Oakland Raiders, the Boston Bruins, the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Chicago Black Hawks.

These early “fan participation” experiments featured spectator-launched projectiles, sick and demented barbs about wives and mothers, and any other timely or topical disparagement that could enrage, sidetrack or inflict harm upon the big bad opponents.

Meanwhile, even though college fans have always been loud and boisterous—not to mention rabidly antagonistic toward the visiting schools—it hasn’t been until relatively recently that their style has approached the vileness and depravity that had always been the province of the pro fans.

Highly energetic student fans--recklessly emboldened by pre-game revelry and by seating arrangements where they are grouped together thousands strong—have become another undesired norm of college basketball and football.

Part of the mix has become—here’s some profound group psychological speculation—the fans’ desire to actually participate in games. That is, if college fans act crazy enough, they can actually help sway the outcome of the game.

It is against this heady backdrop that exuberant basketball fans at the University of Maryland have begun to distinguish themselves these past few seasons.

Things reached a low point last year after the home game against the “evil” Duke. Many Maryland students were sporting red T-shirts with a *[email protected]#$%^& reference to Duke, plus there occurred a particularly crude chant aimed at Duke’s J.J. Redick.

University officials have opted to implement voluntary carrot-but-not-the-big-stick schemes to coax students to behave better. Among the measures recommended are lectures for incoming freshmen by head coaches, free “PG” T-shirts in exchange for the “XXX” ones, and "best sign" contests.

Also being encouraged is the use of "creative, witty cheers" to replace the tasteless chants that are now de rigueur.

Part of the plan is a “T-Shirt exchange,” in which students who show up at games with profane T-Shirts would be able to trade for a university-issued non-profane replacement.

Hmmm. I’m not sure a lot of students would “voluntarily” agree to surrender their T-Shirts.

(this excerpt—with accompanying commentary—has been distilled from a 575 word article in the Washington Post of 6-24-04, as well as background from the Maryland Terrapins website)