WVU Should Ban Fans That Can't Behave
That wasn't the first time a European soccer league imposed a ban on some club's intransigent fanatics. It won't be the last time either. The people who police European soccer are more fearful of not doing anything and chancing a tragedy, than doing something as harsh as kicking out fans and losing ticket and concession revenues. A Euro 2008 qualifier between Turkey and Norway in Frankfurt, Germany, was played in a nearly empty stadium. Turkish fans were barred as punishment for fighting at the end of a World Cup qualifier for their team against Switzerland a few years earlier. They were ordered to play their next three home games away from home, and behind closed doors.
It is too bad those who run sports on this side of the pond are so reluctant to act as boldly when it comes to abject boorish fan behavior.
To be sure, the response of West Virginia University officials on Thursday to the embarrassing and dangerous behavior of its fans on Wednesday night during a men's basketball game against Pittsburgh -- including a coin thrown from the stands that struck a Pittsburgh assistant coach near the corner of his left eye -- was inadequate at best and spineless at worse.
A statement released Thursday night from West Virginia stated in part:
"On behalf of WVU, President Jim Clements apologizes to the University of Pittsburgh community. WVU administration and student government officials are working cooperatively to put in place procedures to remedy inappropriate fan behavior.
"Boorish and unruly behavior by our fans will not be tolerated," Clements said. "Measures will be taken to increase surveillance and security. Violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent permitted by law. Fans who observe dangerous or inappropriate behavior are encouraged to text AID to 94597."
Kindergartners suffer harsher crackdowns when they are dismissed to a corner in timeout.
I called Mountaineers' athletic director Ed Pastilong on Thursday afternoon to find out what more than lip service the school decided to employ to curb the hooliganism in its home gymnasium. My inquiry was still unanswered late Thursday night.
But West Virginia's student newspaper, The Daily Athenaeum, reported on its Web site Thursday evening that a meeting of university and athletic department officials resolved to limit the number of students attending the Mountaineers' next home game, a Monday night ESPN-televised meeting with Villanova, to just 1,600. The Athenaeum pointed out that the student section against Pittsburgh seated 3,300 fans.
That'll show 'em. Only half of the rabid students will be admitted.
Who is to say, by the way, that the students are the only problem? An early report said that the coin-turned-into-a-potentially-blinding-projectile Wednesday night was fired from a general admission area.
What West Virginia needs to do is put its fans on probation just like Italian soccer did with Juventus fanatics. It needs to tell them to stay home. It needs to make them think about their behavior while they miss taking in the play of their beloved Mountaineers.
After all, what happened Wednesday night at WVU Coliseum was not an anomaly. It was routine. The only good news was that this wasn't any indication of a college basketball problem. From time to time, fans, particularly students, cross the line cheering for their classmates. But what happened at West Virginian is commonplace there. This is how they roll in Morgantown, W. Va.: On the next-to-last Saturday in January, West Virginia fans chanted profanity at visiting Ohio State players. The week before that, Mountaineers' students threw cups onto the court after what they thought was a bad call by a ref.
The athletic director told the student newspaper at one point that there wasn't much he could do. The university sent out mass emails imploring its student body to refrain from such embarrassing behavior but, obviously, that request went unheeded.
Morgantown Mayor Bill Byrne said during the football season that he wished someone at the university would take a stand against the idiocy in the Mountaineers' stands and pointed to former men's basketball coach John Beilein, who once grabbed a mic to tongue-lash Mountaineers' miscreants. Bob Huggins tried the same tactic during Wednesday's game.
"Hey, don't throw anything on the floor," Huggins screamed into the mic. "You're going to hurt one of the players ... that's stupid. That is stupid. Hey, if anybody sees somebody throwing stuff on the floor, point 'em out so we can throw 'em out of here."
If Mountaineers' fans want to act like the worst children then they should be treated as such. Ground them. That's what high school officials have done in recent weeks in South Carolina, Pennsylvania and New Mexico. Some games in those states were played in front of only media and family of the players and coaches.
A soccer team in Europe that had its fans barred from a game watched a teaching moment, I think President Obama is fond of calling such incidents, evolve. The empty seats were turned over to kids who otherwise couldn't have afforded ducats. Maybe the Mountaineers could reward Morgantown's best elementary school students with seats where the most-unruly fans are known to sit.
After all, attending a game isn't a right; it's a privilege. Those who abuse it should lose it, temporarily if not for good.