Good morning, class. Today’s lesson: How to fan.
Mind my own business, you say? What?
Oh, mind my own business, fishwrap.
Well, sure, I could probably find another coach to second-guess, another owner to tweak, another ballplayer who could stand some godding up or dissing down. The paying stiffs in the upper deck certainly aren’t clamoring for my help.
But then, some of them aren’t clamoring at all.
Besides, public service is part of the charter here - and the public, as it’s been represented at sporting events near and far of late, seems to be in need of service.
What’s happening these days in the not-so-cheap seats?
Sometimes not much. Sometimes too much.
We’re not even talking about the scene at Rutgers last week when demonstrators brought a basketball game to a halt protesting an incredibly stupid racial slur uttered by Francis Lawrence, who only happens to be president of the university. Basketball was involved only because nobody would have noticed a sit-in at a choir concert.
Then there was the incident in Portland, where Vernon Maxwell of the Houston Rockets bounded up a Memorial Coliseum aisle so he could get western with a heckler.
There has been a curious backlash to the 10-game suspension Maxwell received from the NBA. Fans’ mouths, players insist, have runneth amok. The customers have come to regard a box-seat ticket as a license to abuse.
While there is a good deal of truth to this, it’s still mildly amusing coming from men who regard dunking on a defender as a license to degrade him verbally. It should also be noted that despite Maxwell’s claims that the taunting in Portland was racial in nature and even included remarks about his deceased daughter, no one in the arena - his teammates included - has offered corroboration. But then, everyone has long suspected Mad Max of hearing voices nobody else did.
In any case, abuse is hardly an issue here. Indeed, the patrons of area arenas are still struggling to grasp the notso-niceties of establishing a hostile environment.
Some of this is sheer volume. At our two Big Sky venues, Idaho and Eastern Washington, what noise there is gets absorbed by all the empty seats. There hasn’t been a lot to cheer for at EWU for some time, but the apathy in curious at Idaho, where attendance is down to 2,000 bodies a game - the lowest since the lost years of Bill Trumbo. This isn’t exactly the ideal segue into the brave new world of Big West membership - but, of course, UI is waiting for the proper moment to spring all manner of marketing wizardry on us.
At Gonzaga, the joint is packed and a young team has performed admirably. But other than an occasional tendency to swoon in the stretch, the Zags have suffered mostly from an alarming lack of creativity from their most unique resource, the Kennel Club. Borderline boorish but usually clever in years past, the student body has turned positively pedestrian. Even coach Dan Fitzgerald admitted that, “`Santa Clara sucks’ is not overly creative” - certainly not for the Stanford of Spokane County.
And, finally, there is Washington State, where 11,463 turned out for Saturday’s game against the bully of the Pac-10, UCLA. That was the largest crowd since 12,400 turned out for the Bruins in 1983 and it was suitably raucous - until the visitors managed to sneak ahead by more than four points with 7 minutes to go.
Suddenly, Friel Court turned into the library. When the teams came out of the last timeout with 4:22 to play and Wazzu trailing by 10, the Cougars were greeted by a stunned silence. Public address announcer Glenn Johnson broke it by urging fans to “turn up the heat,” but even his baritone wasn’t in it.
Don’t think this has been lost on Cougars coach Kevin Eastman. Though he is hardly complaining - gift horses and all that - Eastman noted after one game this season that putting fannies in the seats is only half the battle.
“Now we have to educate our fans to what they can do to help us,” said Eastman, whose basketball teeth were cut along Tobacco Road. “We have to get them to be more like a Duke crowd, where they don’t just cheer when you’re ahead. When you’re behind, a crowd can pull you up and help you play at another level. That’s what all basketball programs are trying to build.”
Take it as constructive criticism. After all, being a fan can be a public service, too.