College basketball fans make the sport what it is. But what happens when they take the cheering too far?
The passion. The pride. The creative chants. The improbable upsets. The pep bands blasting fight songs at a volume worthy of that heavy metal band you used to listen to during your rebellious stage. The court, unforgivingly stormed.
Such is the mantra of the NCAA. The George Bailey to the NBA’s Potter, college basketball offers a refreshing change of pace to the NBA, which, as demonstrated by the rumblings and grumblings of an upcoming lockout, is sometimes just as much a business as it is a sport.
I won’t make any sort of bold, declarative statements saying that college basketball fans are the most loyal and most emotionally invested fans out there, mostly because I’ve never seen a college basketball fan shave his favorite player’s number into his back hair. (Well played, NASCAR). With that said, there’s no denying that fans of college basketball, particularly students, think they’re kind of a big deal.
We’ve all heard about Krzyzewskiville, the tent-based community that magically appears outside Cameron Indoor Stadium weeks prior to the Blue Devils’ biggest games. Although the Cameron Crazies may feel differently, the concept of Krzyzewskiville is far from unique. From the Pac 10 to the Big East, overnight campouts on the eve of a big game are about as popular as Justin Bieber is with a seventh-grade girl. In fact, as I type this sentence, a number of my peers are down in McDonough Gymnasium, prepared to stay the night in order to secure Georgetown Big East Tournament tickets.
So, in case you never got the memo, people care about college basketball—students, especially. Walk into any college basketball arena, and there’s a chance you’ll mistake the raucous environment for some very unimportant, non-revolutionary Beatles Concert at Shea Stadium.
Except, unlike that particular crowd, high on unorganized pandemonium (and maybe some other stuff too), college basketball student sections are organized with a distinct rigidity. Some even name themselves, just so everyone else knows how devoted they are to their teams.
With names like the Zoo (Pittsburgh), the Rowdy Reptiles (Florida), and the Orange Krush (Illinois), college-student cheering sections offer a unique combination of raucous passion and mass collaboration, enabling these various armies of decibel-shattering noise to develop small arsenals of chants, slogans, and free T-shirts. More often than not, a collegiate student section equips its home team with sufficient ammunition to gain a considerable advantage over their adversary.
Ammunition? Armies? Is college basketball some sort of war zone?
Of course not. The world has enough adversarial disputes as it is. Let’s not get carried away.
For some fans, though, it’s a little too late.
The inherent drama, marked unpredictability, and heavy emotional investment that come natural to college basketball give the sport its unique sense of zeal, but that zeal can, sometimes, take a malicious turn.
Chants and slogans come to college basketball as inspiration does to Chrysler. But in the world of hormonal, post-teen euphoria, the line of what’s morally acceptable and what’s not gets blurred. And in the heat of the moment, that line doesn’t exist.
In 2008, Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated wrote an insightful piece regarding the problems with student cheering sections. Wahl interviewed a number of players, most notably current Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star Kevin Love and Clippers guard Eric Gordon.
“One fan said, ‘I wish you would die,’” Gordon said. “Another said, ‘I hope you break your leg. Don’t come to Illinois territory.’ I thought it was crazy, but there was nothing I could do about it. Thousands of people were writing stuff like that. I knew they were going to get on my parents and throw stuff, which they did.”
As a student at Georgetown, I’m no stranger to these antics. Although the majority of student fans generally act in a civil fashion, cheering on their Hoyas in a passionate, non-offensive manner, there are a handful who … well … just don’t.
I’ve seen a student try to spit on an opposing fan. I’ve heard fans threaten to do unspeakable things to a referee’s wife. I’ve heard players’ sexual orientations called into question again and again. If you can hit an open jump shot, you’re gay.
Going to games is certainly a thrill, an integral part of the Georgetown experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Watching big games against the Syracuses and Dukes of college basketball has helped define my experience on the Hilltop, and everyone at Georgetown should experience it.
But sometimes I’m embarrassed to be a Hoya. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one.
With the advent of social media, cruel, vulgar, and insensitive personal attacks on players have extended well beyond the court. As a result, many of the nation’s top players have scaled back their public online activity. A simple Facebook profile search for Jimmer Fredette or Kyle Singler yields no results for either player, meaning that their accounts are either completely private or nonexistent.
Unfortunately, the Internet seems to follow that “you can run but you can’t hide” credo, making it nearly impossible for teams and players to escape the wrath of vulgar fans. More and more blogs, Facebook pages, and YouTube videos demeaning schools, players, and other fans pop up every day.
It’s the insanity of all these student sections that makes college basketball so great. But when you stretch the limits far enough, it’s bound to get ugly. Jimmer Fredette’s girlfriend was nearly poked into Facebook inactivity by San Diego State fans. The logical next step was for a SDSU supporter to hit the Jimmer in the face with a rolled-up towel after a BYU win. It’s stuff like this that shouldn’t ever happen and, really, just needs to stop.
Why can’t everyone just be like Wild Bill?