Washington's raucous student section, which drew an obscene gesture from WSU men's basketball coach Dick Bennett during Sunday's game, is now drawing increasing ire among Pac-10 coaches.
Yesterday, during the Pac-10 coaches' weekly media teleconference, Oregon coach Ernie Kent voiced his concern about the location of the UW's student section, known as the Dawg Pack. Unlike any other Pac-10 arena, Hec Edmundson Pavilion's student section is located directly behind the opposing team's benches.
"Could you imagine Mac Court if Washington sat right in front of our Pit Crew?" Kent asked. "I think there would be fights over there. When that verbal stuff is riding your ear five rows behind you, that is a problem and embarrassment to the Pac-10 Conference waiting to happen.
"I think the Pac-10 needs to step up and say something about that," he added.
Most student sections, including those at Oregon and Washington State, are located directly across from players. Other schools such as Arizona State place students behind the baskets. Washington's students are located four rows behind opposing players, with ushers keeping close watch on the crowd.
There have not been any formal discussions to move the UW student section, Jim Daves, assistant athletic director for media relations, but the issue may come up at a previously scheduled meeting of the conference athletic directors in Tucson, Ariz., next week.
UW students allegedly chided Bennett and his players with chants of "flip my burgers," "pick my apples," "bag my groceries" and "start your tractor" during Sunday's game.
Bennett responded at the end of the first half by briefly throwing up a middle finger toward the purple-clad crowd. As his team walked to the locker room at the break, Bennett apologized to the swarm of students, and on the way back out after halftime, Bennett made another effort to apologize.
"I made an inappropriate gesture, and it was something I have never ever in my whole life done," Bennett said. "It was almost casual. I regret it."
Bennett shied away from criticizing students, attributing his lapse of judgment to the circumstances of the game, rather than the verbal abuse of the crowd.
"It's something that is difficult with the fans behind, but I don't have a feeling for it," Bennett said. "We were just playing badly and I was frustrated by that more than anything the fans said or did."
Kent's experience at Washington two weeks ago was just as ruthless, with students mocking Kent's son, Jordan, with chants of "daddy's boy."
But, before the game against the Ducks had even tipped-off, one student hoisted a sign that read "Crosswhite: Australian for suck," referring to Oregon center Ian Crosswhite. Immediately after holding up his paper billboard, the fan's questionable sign was confiscated by the UW staff.
"I have personally spoken to members of the student section to maintain a certain level of class, decorum and sportsmanship," said Chip Lydum, the UW associate director for facilities and events, who monitors the crowd at games.
Students have been ejected for unruly behavior in the past, including one student who was ejected at halftime during Sunday's game. Overall, Lydum said he has been pleased with how students have conducted themselves and hopes the crowd can maintain a creative but sportsmanlike atmosphere.
UW men's basketball coach Lorenzo Romar recalled one instance in which he saw Lydum reprimanding a student for his behavior.
"It appears that it is well-policed and is under control," Romar said. "But I'm concentrated too much on the game to hear it all."
Some Husky players also noted that while other conference arenas don't have student sections directly behind team benches, schools do manage to utilize diverse methods of gaining a competitive advantage.
UW junior Brandon Roy recalled an incident that took place when he went on his first collegiate road trip to face Cal during his freshman year.
"During a timeout, the (Cal) band would be out there on the floor and blow their trumpets at you throughout the whole timeout," Roy recalled. "I was like 'wait a minute, what are they doing? Is this legal?' We didn't take it personal; we just saw it as home court advantage."
The Pac-10 does not have any policy regarding the location of student seating, but the conference does regulate the proximity of the band to players.
According to Roy, each team has to do what they need to do to gain a competitive advantage. For Washington, the advantage is having its students in close proximity to the opposing bench.
"We've dealt with it before," Romar said of playing in an arena with students located directly behind the team benches. "Some of them are kind of funny."
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