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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion

UW student fans should be moved

The Spokesman-Review

Imagine what it’s like to have someone a few feet behind you, questioning your mother’s purity and screaming obscenities for a few hours. Now, mix in a few thousand rabid collegians, wishing you ill and mocking your region and school, too: “Pick my apples.” “Bag my groceries.” “Start your tractor.”

At best, you’d have a headache after a few minutes of that behavior. At worst, you might be tempted to retaliate.

Washington State Coach Dick Bennett, a veteran of hostile college basketball environments, reacted by flipping the bird at Washington’s student section in Seattle last Sunday – and immediately regretted his action. Bennett apologized to the students before his team left the court for halftime and again when they reappeared in the second half, according to the University of Washington Daily Online. He was still apologizing during the Pacific 10 Conference coaches’ weekly media teleconference Tuesday.

Unquestionably, Bennett made a mistake. But he wasn’t the only one.

The University of Washington is inviting an ugly confrontation, and possibly a tragedy, by foolishly allowing its raucous student cheering section to sit directly behind the visitors’ bench at basketball games, the only school in the conference that does so.

The Pac-10 has made a mistake, too, by having no policy regulating the location of student seating. Not only should student seating at Washington be changed, before the taunts lead to a melee, but college officials should adopt policies to deal swiftly with unruly fans.

Much of the blame, of course, can be placed on the shoulders of arrogant professional athletes, like basketball player Latrell Sprewell, who complained that an eight-digit salary wasn’t enough to feed his family; or like the players from the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons whose on-court fight spilled into the seats Nov. 19; or like Minnesota footballer Randy Moss, who pretended to “moon” Green Bay fans after scoring a touchdown in the first round of the NFL playoffs.

College football players involved in a brawl during a game between South Carolina and Clemson cited the Indiana-Detroit NBA melee the previous day as their inspiration. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that what happens in the pros, filters to the colleges and their fans, then to the high schools and their fans, and even further down.

At Sandpoint High School, according to the Cedar Post student newspaper, the administration has taken steps to muzzle rowdy fans, including one or two who yelled racial epithets during boys varsity basketball games against North Central and West Valley.

Not much can be done at the professional level to force decent behavior on coaches and players, other than fines and suspensions when they go berserk on a field of play. On a college level, however, administrators shouldn’t encourage bad sportsmanship. At Washington, a bad tone is set merely by the location of the student rooting section.

Impressionable children are watching. UW officials should address the problem.

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