by Adam Shandler
Indulge me as I recite this anecdote.
I posed on the sidelines like a track star, shoulder-to-shoulder with all the other co-eds, counting down the seconds to Hofstra’s America East Championship win over Delaware in 2001. When the timer read 0:00, I ran like a banshee to center court to join the mosh pit that becomes the end-of-game fare of so many ESPN broadcasts in March. This was so cool. I was celebrating the second consecutive conference championship of my alma mater — a basketball team that I watched struggle for so many years as a student.
As I pinballed from MVP Rick Apodaca to some dork with an “F” (the “F” in Hofstra, I’m hoping) painted on his chest, my euphoria turned to momentary terror. Bodies of all shapes, sizes and odors were closing in on me, arms and elbows flailing at will. I thought, “Wow, I could actually die in here. I could get trampled or popped in the eye!” And those smells — of the point guard who hustled up-and-down court for forty minutes, and of the frat slob with the plumber’s crack who cabbage-patched for forty minutes — were enough to spark a UN inspection on chemical warfare at Hofstra University Arena. My panic quickly faded, for I remembered that this was mid-major Hofstra, and not some ACC team with 100,000 students waiting thirty years for a trip to the dance. Hofstra. We bring only so many fans and we dance for only so long.
We’ve seen fan frenzies get out of control in sports lately. I need only to allude to this past week’s Mayhem at Marshall to make my point, but realize that there have been several goal post assaults this year to turn this into an issue. Now I’m not talking about the attack by those two white trash, coked-up yahoos on Kansas City Royals first base coach Tom Gamboa or the CFL fan of the week who wanted to be a part of the Winnipeg huddle. Those are just one or two shmuckos who hear voices in their heads and randomly jump from the stands to cause trouble. No, I’m referring to something that could be potentially more dangerous. Crowd rushes involving multiple fans that start out as fun but could turn very, very ugly.
Now, I don’t want to get all drives-a-Volvo here but shouldn’t fan safety be of the utmost concern to the NCAA, especially on the dawn of a brand new college hoops season. With fans making greater strides in the sport of “extreme celebrating” and lunacy becoming acceptable by celebrating fans, indoor arenas, mob scenes and pepper spray does not a good trio make.
I hope to never see the day when the sigma house champion kegstander makes his way to the top of the backboard and stage dives onto a crowd of unsuspecting celebrants. Or where an overly ambitious pep club finds a way to bring the backboards down and parade them through Collegetown, USA. (Of course, I’ll laugh just like everyone else as long as I’m not the one in handcuffs and shoved into the back of a Caprice Classic with a light rack.)
You might say that college hoops fans would never do that. That we know better. That we’re used to celebrating a conference tournament win. But what about the guy who snaps? The one who discovers his claustrophobia at the wrong time and starts kicking like that horse in Animal House? The fellah who is driven to madness by the stench of his fellow celebrants? What will happen when this poor soul sets a new precedent in unmeditated violence?
How does the NCAA prepare itself for the unpreparable? By overpreparing. (This is not a limerick, I promise.)
If it takes multiple annoucements during games to remind the crowd of its safety, at the risk of sounding too corny, they should do it. If it means working with both commercial and college arenas to enforce stricter penalties for Cro-Magnon behavior, so be it. If it means more cops and public safety officers patrolling the arenas and their sidelines during games, make it so. Will all this cost more? Will it be a drag to fans? Will the Man be hasslin’ us?
Yes. But it just might keep the police blotters shorter, the ERs emptier…oh, and it just might save some lives.