West Virginia hastens to improve security at basketball games
West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins addresses the crowd during the second half of Wednesday's game against Pitt. The game was interrupted twice when fans threw debris on the court.
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While West Virginia University will increase security at basketball games after a University of Pittsburgh coach was injured by an object thrown by WVU fans during a showdown in Morgantown, Pitt's planning no special measures for a rematch here on Friday.
"We are not going to change our policies," said Pitt athletic director Steve Pedersen. "We take great pride in how our fans represent our university and our city at the Petersen Events Center and Heinz Field. We always have heightened awareness for big games. Anytime we have had something happen we have acted decisively and immediately."
WVU President James P. Clements has made multiple acts of contrition. He followed Thursday's public apology for "appalling and inappropriate behavior" with a report to the school's board of governors Friday, promising steps to curb fighting, obscenities, drunkenness and any throwing of objects.
"As a university we are taking this issue very seriously," he said. "We need to do everything we can to make sure our fans are acting appropriately."
Bad fan behavior at the nationally televised game overshadowed WVU's 70-51 victory over Pitt. One chant turned Pitt coach Jamie Dixon's name into an obscenity. So much trash was thrown onto the court that WVU coach Bob Huggins scolded fans for "stupid" behavior. Later, Pitt assistant coach Tom Herrion was struck below the left eye by what witnesses believed was a quarter.
On Thursday more than a dozen WVU officials met to plan ways to prevent future problems, said Becky Lofstead, assistant vice president for university communications.
Starting with Monday's game against Villanova, there will be more security personnel at the gates and in the stands, she said. The school plans better enforcement of its alcohol ban at games, extra security cameras on the crowd to identify troublemakers and a text-messaging system that will allow fans to quickly and discreetly report bad behavior. Misbehaving fans will be removed, she said, and may be banned from future games. Students could also face a range of sanctions up to and including expulsion, she said.
School officials are counting on peer pressure from the majority of students who were embarrassed by Wednesday's behavior, Ms. Lofstead said.
The Student Government Association and Mountaineer Maniacs student boosters group are working together to place 75 section leaders in the student sections to organize appropriate cheers, said Whitney Rae Peters, the student government vice president. She noted that Wednesday's attendance of 15,419 was the third-largest ever, and the student attendance of 3,300 was about 1,000 above average.
"We've never had a student crowd like that, ever. Yet we can't read headlines the next morning because they are so discouraging. It's so disappointing because of the actions of a few," Ms. Peters said.
The Mountaineer Maniacs are surveying members for suggestions on how to improve fan behavior.
"It's really unfortunate. This is the first time in a long time we've been able to decisively beat Pitt and that wasn't the highlight," said Cassie Werner, executive director of the Mountaineer Maniacs. "The consensus seems to be it is 30 or 40 bad apples that are really causing this image to be put on everyone else, and students are getting tired of it."
Currently WVU students are guaranteed free admission to games, sitting or standing in three distinct sections. WVU officials considered limiting student admissions to 1,600 but, after arguments from student leaders, decided to wait to see if behavior improves, according to both Ms. Werner and Ms. Lofstead.
John Paquette, a spokesman for the Big East Conference, expressed confidence in the steps WVU was taking.
"We are very comfortable with the plans West Virginia will have in place," he said.
First Published February 6, 2010 12:00 am