In an era when attendance at college sporting events is declining rapidly, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby has taken steps to ensure that the trend accelerates. In the conference’s recently concluded spring meetings, Bowlsby announced two steps that are guaranteed to reduce the amount of fun that can be had at Big 12 basketball games and other events.
First, he has taken steps to disallow fans from rushing the court after a particularly momentous and/or thrilling victory. Henceforward, schools will face an escalating regime of penalties, including actual loss of home sporting events, if Bowlsby deems the schools did not take adequate steps to prevent fans from streaming onto the court.
Second, Bowlsby is cracking down on what he calls “inappropriate” and “foul” language by fans at Big 12 events. In order to accomplish this incredibly difficult feat, Bowlsby is requiring all conference schools to draft a member of their Student Life department to liaise between Athletic Departments and Student Government in an attempt to raise awareness that the foul and the inappropriate will no longer be tolerated.
Aside from the obvious net result of reducing excitement at Big 12 sporting events, and the possible result of diminished attendance, there are many other problems, philosophical, logistical, and otherwise, with Bowlsby’s crusade.
Let’s examine the court-rushing diktat first.
The incident which seems to have catalyzed the new “no rushing “ policy was last year’s upset by Kansas State of Kansas in basketball. Wildcat fans rushed the court and there was some jostling of Jayhawk players and coaches, not to mention intemperate language directed at the visitors.
The fear, apparently, is that this is a recipe for some future melee. And given that Bowlsby has been granted authority to actually strip schools of home events, this mere possibility—no melee has ever actually occurred—is being taken extremely seriously by the Big 12, which is precisely what the Big 12 wants the public and media to think.
However, when it comes to ACTUAL fights and transgressions by Big 12 athletes, some of which have resulted in broken bones, the conference seems far less concerned. Looking only at Texas Tech over the last several years, we see ample evidence of the Big 12’s insouciance.
In January, 2007 Oklahoma forward Longar Longar decked Tech center Ezmir Rizvic with an elbow that fractured Rizvic’s eye socket. The Big 12’s response to this actual violence? A two-game suspension.
In March, 2010 Baylor basketball player Brittney Griner slugged Tech cager Jordan Barncastle in the face, breaking her nose. The punishment from the draconian Big 12? Another two-game suspension.
In February, 2015 Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart left the court and shoved a Texas Tech fan—not a player—a fan. Well, the Big 12 certainly showed Marcus Smart it meant business regarding fan safety. It slapped him with a three-game suspension that ended just in time for Smart to return to the floor when the Red Raiders traveled to Stillwater.
And finally, in last year’s Texas Tech-Baylor football game, 6-foot-9 275-pound defensive end Shawn Oakman deliberately applied his knee to quarterback Pat Mahomes' windpipe after sacking him. Not only was Oakman not penalized for this potentially dangerous cheap shot, but the Big 12 took no action afterward, even though the video evidence damning Oakman was available for all to see.
This history, from just one school over the past eight years demonstrates a pattern by the Big 12 of wrist-slapping and neglect when the league’s players attack one another or initiate a physical confrontation with fans. But never fear! Bolshevik Bob Bowlsby is on the scene to punish fans and schools for incidents that haven’t even occurred. Forgive me if I discern rank hypocrisy from the Big 12 at the highest levels.
Then there are logistical considerations. Will cordons of armed police henceforth surround basketball courts giving events the air presidential motorcades in an increasingly policed and militarized society? Can they really hold back 15,000 delirious fans? Should they? Do we want cops bludgeoning, tazing and macing students? Isn’t that a bit more dangerous than simply letting the fans have some fun celebrating with their team?
The Big 12’s new stance on fan speech is, if anything, even more laughable and problematic.
At Texas Tech basketball games, the fans are already harangued before the start of games that “racist, sexist and other intimidating” utterances will be punished with removal from the facility. They are then adjured to support the athletes and officials in a positive manner.
Presumably, such warnings are not confined to Texas Tech, but rather, are common throughout the Big 12 and other NCAA conferences. This being the case, what does Bowlsby hope to accomplish? The warnings are crystal clear, persistent, and backed up by the threat of punishment. Does drafting komissars from Student Life to engage in the typically postmodern business of facilitating awareness-raising stand the ghost of a chance of making a difference? Of course not.
But there’s also an unsettling undercurrent of censoriousness from Bowlsby’s edict. He has placed himself, via Student Life catspaws, in the role of a speech policeman whose job is to decide what language is unacceptable, and what is not. He has not yet arrogated to himself punitive powers on this score, but the frequent occurrence of slippery slopes does not inspire one with confidence.
Ultimately, Bowlsby seeks to stifle free expression in order to create kind and sensitive sports environments which are, by their very nature confrontational, oppositional and hostile.
Regardless of whether or not Bowlsby and the Sensitivity SS like it, opposing teams and coaches are viewed as the enemy because they are attempting to acquire something—a win—that the other team’s fans often desperately want. In such emotionally charged and competitive settings, it is only natural that fans will use abusive language to attempt to rattle the opposition. And insofar as doing so improves the home team’s chances of winning, they are doing their job.
Rather than sentence Big 12 fans to sensitivity training, perhaps Bowlsby should participate in a round of toughness seminars. A remedial course on the US Constitution wouldn’t go amiss either.
Targeting: Big 12 Hammers Its Fan Base
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