A student task force has asked the University of Maryland to try one more course of gentle persuasion in the struggle to curb rowdy and vulgar fan behavior before the school imposes new restrictions or disciplinary measures at sporting events.
Among the measures recommended by the all-undergraduate committee are lectures for incoming freshmen by head coaches, free T-shirts in exchange for ones with profane slogans and "best sign" contests promoted on the video board at football and basketball games.
The committee also urged the promotion of "creative, witty cheers" to replace -- or at least drown out -- the kind of obscene chants that were audible during the national television broadcasts of some basketball games last season, to the embarrassment of university officials.
"We're giving the students one last chance to prove that they know better," said David Krieger, a senior student government representative who chaired the task force.
If the efforts fail, he said, then the committee would welcome a tougher approach, including a ban on profane T-shirts or loss of ticketing rights for students who lead vulgar chants.
University officials said they have agreed to the recommendations and won't impose penalties until they see how the new measures work.
The recommendations come five months after the home basketball game against Duke University that, for many, represented a low point in outrageous fan behavior. Many Maryland students were seen wearing red T-shirts with a profane reference to Duke, and in the final moments of the game, some began a vulgar chant aimed at Duke guard J.J. Redick.
After that incident, university officials sought legal guidance on how to curb such behavior without violating the students' constitutional right to free speech. In March, the office of the State Attorney General issued an opinion that the university could adopt a "carefully drafted" policy to prohibit such behavior.
However, Assistant State Attorney General John K. Anderson also suggested that university might do well to try other tactics first, a recommendation embraced by the student task force.
Krieger said he was optimistic the committee's recommendations would work. In particular, he said that other colleges have found that lectures from head coaches can make a real impression on students. "That two-way communication is very important," he said.
Maryland had tried T-shirt exchange before, but not at the games, he said. "If [shirts] are readily available at the games, it's less likely a problem."
The task force is also recommending the distribution of satirical game-day newspapers to encourage the Maryland fan tradition of shaking newspapers at the opposing team. The papers would print "witty" but appropriate student-penned cheers that would, hopefully, catch on among the fans.
Finally, the task force called for the creation of a 12-member panel of students and administrators to monitor fan behavior and determine whether stricter steps will be necessary. For now, though, Krieger said he hopes education and some positive reinforcement will do the trick.
"I don't think people realize the magnitude of this being a problem," he said, arguing that vulgar behavior by fans could hurt Maryland's larger reputation as it tries to attract students and faculty and as its graduates go out for job interviews.
"We want to keep traditions of old intact," Krieger said, "but we also want to fine-tune them to deal with this matter."