I still recall with pride the headline in the Arizona Republic the
day after Penn State beat Miami for the 1986 national championship: “Class
Beats Crass.” The headline referred not only to Penn State’s image
and reputation, but also to the way in which Penn State players and fans had
comported themselves in Phoenix in the face of rude, arrogant, and insulting
behavior from the Miami team.
Fast forward 20 years and it is a different world. Crass seems to have won
out everywhere. Fan misbehavior is a serious problem across the nation—in
pro sports and increasingly in college football—regrettably, even at
Penn State. In short, some alumni, students, and just plain fans are giving
our alma mater a black eye
Things came to a head during the Ohio State epic last October, a night game
that provided a long, long day for too many Penn Staters to get drunk and mean.
Particularly shameful was the treatment of the Ohio State Marching Band. As
the musicians marched through an upscale section of the Beaver Stadium west
side parking lots, they were shoved, heckled, and showered with obscenities,
to put it mildly. I got angry letters from Ohio State fans who had witnessed
the incidents and to whom, with great embarrassment, I apologized profusely.
Alcohol was a big part of the problem. Alcohol-related incidents reported
by University Police, the Mount Nittany Medical Center, and University Judicial
Affairs totaled 304 during the Ohio State weekend. That’s one-third of
the 904 such incidents reported at all seven home games last year.
Following the Ohio State incident, we brought the matter of fan misbehavior
to the attention of Alumni Council at the November meeting. They spent a half
hour discussing it passionately, offering advice and counsel to change things
for the better. And many of their suggestions are being implemented.
A University-wide task force has been meeting to come up with solutions to
address fan misbehavior and your Alumni Association staff has been an active
participant. Other participants on the task force are Intercollegiate Athletics,
Student Affairs, Penn State Police, State College Police, University Judicial
Affairs, and University Relations.
For starters, the tailgating areas around Beaver Stadium will have a more
visible presence of police and safety personnel—more “boots on
the ground,” as it were. According to University Police Services Director
Steve Shelow, there will be “significantly more” Penn State police
officers patrolling the areas around the stadium to help fans who need assistance
and to help reduce underage drinking. In addition, the police department’s
mobile command post will be assigned to a more visible location this year—in
the picnic grove near the intersection of Park Avenue and University Drive.
If you see a situation that warrants police intervention, please call the emergency
number that is being promoted for campus police: 863-1111.
But police won't be the only ones on patrol. The Alumni Association is working
with the Nittany Lion Club and Penn State to put together teams of one alum
and one student to walk through the tailgating areas and greet fans—especially
visiting fans. These hospitality teams (the name is still in the works) will
get to know the people in the parking lots, answer questions, and try to nip
problems in the bud. They will also be in touch with police, if the need arises,
by cell phone or radios supplied by Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics. Representatives
might also walk alongside the visiting teams' band to reduce potential run-ins
with any of our unruly fans. (Alumni are needed to volunteer for this program.
If you are interested, e-mail Volunteer Services Director Kevin Barron at firstname.lastname@example.org or
call him at 814-865-4515 as soon as possible.)
Another new action being taken by the University is prohibiting the consumption
of alcohol around Beaver Stadium between the game's kick-off and final whistle.
This is being done to discourage the increasing number of fans who are coming
to the tailgate areas to drink, with no intention of attending the football
game. During the rain-soaked game with Akron, University Police made the rounds
and warned numerous alcohol-fueled tailgates during the game that such behavior
would bring more serious sanctions next time around.
Other initiatives include increased advertising and media awareness. In July,
your Alumni Association premiered a full-page ad entitled “The Penn State
Way” in the 2006 Penn State Football Annual produced by Town & Gown magazine.
The ad is also running in the Beaver Stadium Pictorial and Town & Gown magazine. Indeed,
University Relations is so taken with the ad that they have asked us to adapt
it for other media as well throughout the season.
Our Lion Ambassadors and the Blue & White Society, the student membership
of the Penn State Alumni Association, are also involved with a variety of messages
to students—at pep rallies, during the S-Zone in the stadium, and in
their electronic communications.
It should be noted that Penn State is not alone in tackling the fan misbehavior
problem. Recently, the National Collegiate Athletic Association called on colleges
to take steps to prevent rowdy post-game behavior by fans. Myles Brand, NCAA
president, sent a letter and a safety checklist to all member institutions
in July, citing “an escalation in the number and severity of incidents and urging officials to review their post-game, crowd-control plans.”
I need to point out that readers of Alumni Volunteer Update are not the
problem—to the contrary. As the leaders of our affiliate groups, you
bring Penn State pride—and class—to visible life wherever you work,
live, and travel. Furthermore, it is important to note that the vast majority
of Penn Staters are good sports, steeped in the values of the Penn State Way.
But I am fully apprising you of this issue in hopes that you can help Penn
State in combating fan misbehavior, particularly as we look toward October
14 and the home game with the Michigan Wolverines. Once again, this is a night
game being televised to a national audience. And given the outcome of last
year's Penn State-Michigan game, “payback” may be on the minds
of far too many alcohol-fueled fans.
As we move further into the season, all of us need to be increasingly vigilant
for incidents of bad behavior, calling police services when the situation warrants.
But even more effective is each of us acting as a goodwill ambassador to the
other team and its fans. We need to go out of our way to make alumni, students,
and fans from the visiting university feel that they are welcome and appreciated
in Happy Valley.
For the glory,
Roger L. Williams