WEST LAFAYETTE, IND., FEB. 21 -- Once again, crowd behavior at college basketball games is becoming a problem around the country.
In the last several weeks, a series of incidents has again highlighted the lack of crowd controls in many arenas. Here are some of the lowlights:
On Feb. 7, the Duke student who dresses as the Blue Devil appeared during Duke's game against Notre Dame with the name "Buckwheat" written across the top of his head. The reference was to the black character in "The Little Rascals" who has been lampooned in recent years by Eddie Murphy when he appeared on "Saturday Night Live."
The "Buckwheat" reference was seen as a racial slur directed at Notre Dame's David Rivers and has brought about an angry protest by the Association of Black Coaches. Duke has responded to the protest by suspending the student from his job as Blue Devil, but no Duke official took action at any point during the game.
Students at Missouri who call themselves "The Antlers" shouted things at Iowa State's Jeff Grayer, many of them profane references to members of his family, during pregame warm-ups, reducing Grayer to tears.
Georgetown students, in consecutive games, chanted "Prop 48" at Syracuse's Earl Duncan while he shot free throws (Duncan sat out his freshman season because he failed to meet Proposition 48 academic requirements) and then chanted, "Just Say No," in the direction of Villanova students two nights later, a reference to former player Gary McLain's confession in Sports Illustrated last spring that he used cocaine throughout his Villanova career.
A plastic cup narrowly missed the head of official Larry Gordon during Saturday's Georgia Tech-North Carolina State game, one of several objects thrown from the stands after N.C. State Coach Jim Valvano was given a first-half technical foul.
These are not isolated incidents. The problems of profanity and debris throwing have so increased that the NCAA has authorized officials to call a two-shot technical foul on the head coach for crowd misbehavior.
That won't stop the problem. The only person who can get crowds to respond, regardless of the school, is the head coach. In the past, Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski has often taken it upon himself to write open letters in the student newspaper urging the students not to cross the line between funny and vulgar. Dean Smith has taken the microphone in games in Chapel Hill to demand that profane cheers and debris throwing be stopped. Lefty Driesell, when he was coach at Maryland, often turned to the crowd to wave off profane cheers.
More needs to be done at more places. Coaches need to make pregame announcements telling the crowd they will ask the officials to call a technical foul if the crowd gets out of line in any way. Fan participation is an important part of college basketball. But not this way.
Waiting for Gavitt
Meanwhile, back on the court . . . In the past five weeks the following has happened in the Big East: a brawl between Georgetown and Pittsburgh Jan. 6; a brawl between Georgetown and Boston College Jan. 16; an angry exchange of obscenities on the court between Pitt Coach Paul Evans and Villanova Coach Rollie Massimino Feb. 13; and, finally, a rematch between Georgetown and Pitt Saturday.
Big East Commissioner Dave Gavitt has done nothing. By contrast, when Wyoming and UTEP engaged in a fight two weeks ago, the Western Athletic Conference immediately suspended the players involved. It will be interesting to see how Gavitt handles the latest fight and, also, how the Metro Conference handles Saturday's Louisville-South Carolina fight. The Big East's executive committee, which could authorize suspensions, meets this week . . .
Rex Chapman, Kentucky's sophomore star, is struggling. Wednesday, when the Wildcats were upset by Tennessee, 72-70, Chapman shot five for 15 and fell down meekly trying to draw a charge on the last play of the game. Saturday, when Kentucky lost to Florida, Chapman was nine for 22. He is shooting the ball very quickly and, probably, from too far . . .
The best thing about American's current six-game winning streak is that it has probably ensured that Coach Ed Tapscott will return. Tapscott is a class individual who deserves a chance to recruit to the school's new on-campus arena. American is on the verge of very good things . . .
A nod should also go to Navy Coach Pete Herrmann, whose team easily could have folded with a 3-12 record and no David Robinson. The Midshipmen came back to win eight in a row before Saturday's loss to American.
More Than Commentary
The latest TV trend is for analysts to offer free pregame advice to players and coaches. Several weeks ago, Driesell pointed out a shooting flaw to Virginia's John Crotty before the Cavaliers' victory over Wake Forest. Two weeks ago, Billy Packer suggested a play to Georgia Tech assistant coach Perry Clark before the Yellow Jackets game at Maryland. Clark made a point of thanking Packer after the game . . .
Valvano is another advocate of an open NCAA tournament -- if criteria for Division I are stiffened. There are currently 291 Division I basketball schools. Valvano also would like to see the regular season shortened with practice starting Dec. 1.
The Upset Pick
The Upset Pick is on the bubble. A split last week -- Alabama came through against Vanderbilt but Holy Cross got crushed by La Salle -- leaves the record at 8-12. Fans are chanting, "NIT," but there is no letdown here. This week: Seton Hall shocks Pittsburgh on Monday and Syracuse marches into Kentucky and beats the Wildcats Sunday.