by Bruce Dunlavy             (My blog home page and index of other posts may be found here.)

It’s March, and that means March Madness®. The “madness” in question centers on college basketball, but it is not the teams who have gone mad. It’s those who follow them.

Not-so-distant thunder sounded last week, portending the possibility of future storms. The game between the University of Kansas and Kansas State University in KSU’s Bramlage Coliseum ended with an upset win by the home team. At game’s end, a large percentage of the fans in attendance rushed onto the court in a wild celebration that resulted in players and coaches – as well as participants in the “court–storming” – being jostled, pressed, and otherwise placed in danger of injury.

The university hosting the game is charged with crowd control and building security, but the NCAA leaves it up to individual conferences to enact and enforce rules. The Southeastern Conference, for example, can fine member schools as much as $50,000 for failure to prevent court-storming.

University of Arizona coach Sean Miller has suggested that a $100,000 fine for every occurrence would make colleges ensure that court-storming no longer happened at their arena.  Of course, Arizona is a traditional powerhouse, and any time they lose on the road the home team reacts wildly. At the time Miller made his proposal, his team had seen opposing teams’ fans rush the court after its last six losses on the road.

Yes, it is bad behavior – and certainly dangerous behavior – on the part of fans when this sort of thing occurs after intercollegiate sports events. No doubt there are those who chirp the hackneyed tune that it is the media’s fault for showing video of the event, as if before television and the internet such things did not happen. In the particular instance of the UK-KSU event, one might also question the wisdom of Kansas State coach Bruce Weber in using video of the previous year’s post-game court rush to motivate his team.

But in the end, whose fault is it? Where does responsibility for this dangerous behavior lie? Let me suggest this:

The universities have no one to blame but themselves. They are the ones who decided a successful big-time sports presence was the way to “establish their brand.” They made winning athletic teams the most important thing for attracting students, selling merchandise, creating school spirit, and pulling in donations from alumni and the demimonde of athletic boosters (also rudely known as “jock-sniffers”). When they work so hard to make their fans believe that the collegiate world centers on sports, they must expect game attendees to contribute more than polite applause and an orderly exit.

In a recent discussion on this topic, I raised that point and was quickly accused of “blaming the victim,” by which was meant that the schools were wronged by the actions of unruly fans.

Oh? The universities are the victims here? The universities, who brand their schools with winning athletic teams instead of scholarly prowess, license their merchandise with the names of their athletic teams instead of their academic colleges, pay 18-year-olds who have no business in college at all to come and represent them on the court, and pay their basketball coach more than the twelve highest-paid faculty members put together?

Are the universities and their administrators the “victims”? Or are the real victims the 85% of students who never attend an athletic event but still have to pay a $750 to $1100 “General Fee” to support athletics, attend classes in broken-down 1920s-era buildings while the university builds a $40 million basketball arena, and struggle to pay for their classes and books while the fake-student basketball players are given theirs for free – along with tutors, preferential treatment in course selection, and everything else they need to stay eligible?
Kansas State University has over 20,000 students and 3,000 seats in the student section at its basketball arena. That means more than 17,000 students have other priorities.

The ordinary students are the victims, and the chaotic scene in Bramlage Coliseum is another reason to get the public universities out of the sports business.

 

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