What to do with the Rowdy Ryans?

In yesterday’s post about UTSA’s inaugural football game, I failed to mention the student fans rushing the field after the game.  Roughly what happened was

  • Before the final play of the game, there was a clear announcement over the PA system to refrain from running onto the field, with a warning that you could be arrested.
  • During the final play (NE State’s possession), a UTSA fan ran to the 50 yard line to cheer and bow to our winning team.  NE State players justifiably complained.  Security gave him the Evil Eye and chased him off the field into custody.
  • Immediately after the end of game, 7 or 8 “heroic” fans started a rush to the field, and were apprehended by security personnel.  At least one fellow was clearly resisting arrest midfield, NEVER a good idea anywhere in Texas.
  • These pioneers were followed by about 2000 of their closest friends, some of whom were overcome with enthusiasm, others with the fear of being trampled.  There were clearly far too many for the security staff to handle, and once it was clear they were safe and celebrating harmlessly, they were allowed to stay on the field unimpeded.

So now some students have their knickers in a twist because our field-rushing heroes are being treated unfairly; there’s a big hue and cry to have the charges dropped.  A logo has been designed and T-shirts are being printed to show solidarity with Our Oppressed Champions.   Administration and student government are meeting to address the crisis.  SOMETHING MUST BE DONE.  I’m sure something will.

First, my take.  Number One Dumbass, the one who ran onto the field while the game was still underway, is, the the tradition of the Stanford Band, as dumb as a box of rocks.  He clearly deserves a good ass-kicking and the derision of every sensible fan.  The rest of the field rushers behaved precisely the way any undergraduate instructor could have predicted.  Heedless of warnings and overcome with emotion, they got caught up in the moment (or the crowd surge) and behaved a bit irresponsibly.  Don’t think so?  Consider what the headlines would have read if 5 or 6 students had been trampled and seriously injured: “Rowdy Ryan Incites UTSA Mob, Trampling 6, Paralyzing 2.”  Nevertheless, we should have seen this coming.  After all, a small but significant fraction of our students freak out whenever they’re stressed–just think about exam days!  I take great pains in the courses I teach to reduce student anxiety and motivate positive responses to stress because I know–from sometimes bitter experience–how students can behave.

Now, my suggestion.  “When you’re handed lemons, make lemonade.”  There are several factors to consider, which might lead to a constructive approach to the Fans-on-the-Field Problem.

  1. This is UTSA’s first season, and it’s off to a winning start.  The fans, especially the student fans, are going to be excited to the point of losing all judgement.
  2. UTSA’s marketing effort for football wants to make the Game Day experience memorable, positive, and to last as long as possible.
  3. A spontaneous and uncontrolled rush onto the field by thousands of fans is an invitation to disaster, Russian Roulette writ large.  UTSA can’t stand the liability hit from the inevitable injuries.
  4. Short of calling out the National Guard with riot gear, there’s no way to stop a fan stampede once it starts.

On our morning jog, my wife and I discussed the problem; here’s our suggestion:  Don’t prohibit the fans from the field, encourage them to come on down.  But get them onto the field not to just mill around and cheer the players, but to do something structured, fun, and reasonably safe.  Have our flag-bearing yell leaders lead the students in a clockwise Victory Lap from the student sections around the field and out of the stadium, following (or even preceding) the team.  Cheerleaders, dancers, coaching staff, and some players (and maybe the Rowdy Ryans) can line up around the field and high-five the crowd as they pass by.  Dump ’em out in the parking lot for a short post-game party with some music and cold drinks.

Whatever the solution, The Powers That Be at UTSA do need to get a handle on it, because the classic bureaucratic approach of admonition and education isn’t going to work.  If you have a suggestion, shoot by email to the UTSA SGA President, Xavier Johnson, SGAUTSA@gmail.com.

Update (8 September).  DA Susan Reed is working towards a resolution of the charges against the cadre of initial field rushers:

In five of the six cases that involved current UTSA students, Reed intends to drop the charge of criminal trespass and refer the cases to the university’s administration for disciplinary action, which she said might entail some community service work. A sixth case involving a student already had been dismissed.

In the cases of the two other fans, who apparently were not students, Reed said she plans to lower the charge from a class B to C misdemeanor with a fine.

It’s revealing that the two NON-students will be treated pretty much like responsible adults, while UTSA students will be treated more like misbehaving little children. Local opinion on this is all over the map.

Update (8 September).  Game Day instructions have been sent out to all UTSA students.  This initial response to the Rush the Field Problem is ineffectual, typically academic, and totally pathetic:

How to have a great Football Game Day: Ticket and transportation tips

–UTSA students get in free to home games. Print your tickets in advance online, and enter the Alamodome at 11 a.m. Use your UTSACard at the game, and you can enter at 11:30 a.m.

–With safety as the top concern, don’t rush the field at the game! Everyone is excited, but UTSA’s top priority is safety for everyone.

One of W. Edwards Deming’s 12 Principles is “Avoid Exhortations from Management,” and for good reason. This sad little email warning will have zero effect on the inevitable contingent of overexcited (and possibly drunken) student fans at the game. We’ll see on Saturday…

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