How to best handle the students is a tough situation for many athletic departments in these times of heavy competition for the public's sports dollar. Students are raucous, they usually stand at games (thereby obstructing others' views), can take up profitable seating capacity, have been known to smuggle adult beverages into the games, and have the potential to act in a manner that is not beneficial to the university.
On the other hand, for lack of a better phrase, THEY'RE THE FREAKING STUDENTS! They are what the whole university is about. They are the friends, classmates, and peers of the players. And many times, they are the most rabid, vocal group of fans at the games. They are what provide college sports with the "college atmosphere."
When balancing these factors, the ASU administration has decided that a student section is an important part of the college basketball atmosphere. They want a section the students can call their own. They know that experiences in the student section are an important part of alumni's memories of ASU athletics during their undergraduate years.
Personally, I agree with this decision. Student sections are what define the best venues in college basketball. Not having one makes the game much more about the alumni than the students, which is backwards thinking.
However, just because a student section exists does not mean that many things can't be done to control the behavior of those who sit there. Here some suggestions for how the ASU athletic department can implement changes that will positively affect student behavior at games:
- Put a winning product on the floor consistently. Non-diehard students that show up to just a few games (or maybe just the UofA game) each year do not feel tied to the team. Because they do not have much of an emotional investment in the team, they do not even think about how their actions represent the ASU team, fans, and other students. Also, they are willing to cross the line at times because being removed from the game is not that big of a deal to them. People love winners. If ASU can make it to the tourney for a few years in a row, this will start to change. Everyone loves a winner.
- Implement assigned seating in the student section. This will allow those who care about the team the best seats. These students are not the ones acting up at the hoops games. The students that only attend a game or two each year are the main perpetrators of the questionable activity.
The athletic department should set a date on which hoops tickets go on sale. The majority of the main sections (K and L) should be assigned seating. The rest can remain general admission. At five minutes before tip off, those sitting in general admission should be allowed to then fill in any openings in the main section if they so desire.
Another benefit of assigned seats is that security can now put faces with areas and know who is usually at the games, who may cause trouble, and also can track down their names and email addresses through which seats they occupy.
- Provide some real benefits for joining the Devils Den. The Devils Den student group is a great idea and is starting to take form. However, there really are no benefits of being in the group right now other than getting a free T-shirt (and they have yet to arrive for this season). The ticketing office needs to designate specific seating for the group (my suggestion would be six seats wide, ten rows deep from the front of the student section to start). Additionally, someone in the department should be the designated contact for the group. The mentor should work with the leadership of the group in securing funding from ASASU as a student organization. They should also help the Devils Den leadership to organize meetings, create cheers, and come up with new and creative ways to improve the atmosphere at WFA.
A well-run Devils Den can police itself. Only those members who participate in the groups' meetings and who act in an acceptable manner will be allowed to sit in the Devils Den's designated seating area or to enjoy any other benefits available to the members. Losing a good seat down courtside is a strong deterrent to unacceptable behavior, especially if the other good seats are already filled or are assigned seats.
I believe that these three changes would go a long way toward decreasing any questionable behavior by the students. A side benefit is that the athletic department is actually rewarding their best student-customers. Finally, I believe that student attendance at games will actually increase if these measures are taken.
Hopefully the athletic department has a plan for the students.
Writers Note: I want to emphasize that the student section is not as rowdy or raunchy as many would make it out to be. I have sat there for many years. I have heard my share of profanity and crude remarks, but the overwhelming majority of the students acts in a reasonable manner and represent the university well. Unfortunately, a few idiots get all of the attention.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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