Personal foul called on Terps fans

Obscene chants, shirts at home vs. Duke bring rebuke from Williams

ACC notebook

January 30, 2004|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Maryland coach Gary Williams often claims to have the best fans in the nation backing his program. But when it comes to a portion of the student fan base that has made its presence known in recent years, especially when archrival Duke visits College Park, Williams has a different opinion.

For a number of years, Williams and school officials have blushed at the sight of scores of T-shirts emblazoned with a profanity aimed at the Blue Devils. Three years ago, immediately after a stunning overtime loss to Duke at Cole Field House, the mother of former Blue Devils center Carlos Boozer was struck in the head by a plastic water bottle thrown by a student.

And in the closing seconds of last week's 68-60 loss to Duke, as Blue Devils guard J.J. Redick was shooting free throws, a sizable group of students showered him with a vulgar chant.

"They're not our best fans, the people who chant that or wear the T-shirt. Those people have to grow up," Williams said. "I'm just disappointed. We're not very creative if we have to resort to that. I want our fans to be louder than any other fans in the country, but we don't have to go over the line."

The latest episode has caused a stir in the Maryland athletic department, which athletic director Debbie Yow said has been contacted by more than two dozen people complaining about the offensive behavior and asking the school to put a stop to it. Yow said she plans to meet with Williams and university president C.D. Mote Jr., to address the problem.

Yow said there is not much the school can do. She said the university's legal counsel maintains that, since Maryland is a state university and its basketball team plays in a public building, any use of free speech is protected under the First Amendment.

After the bottle-throwing incident, the school banned the students' longtime pre-game practice of throwing rolled-up newspapers on the court following the introduction of the opposing starting lineup.

And the athletic department recently stopped publicly endorsing "The Red Army" as the nickname for the student section, a moniker that was chosen among 500 entries submitted to a committee as part of a university contest.

School officials responded to complaints by alumni, who thought the title disrespected soldiers killed by troops of the same name, according to The Diamondback, the school newspaper. The Red Army historically refers to troops under the former Soviet Union, a force of about 11 million during World War II. Two large "Red Army" signs atop the student section were taken down before the Jan. 21 Duke game.

As for the obscenity problem, Yow said, "It's an issue we've dealt with periodically for a number of years. None of us who work here think it's representative of the quality of our alumni and students and fans. We're never going to throw people out of the building for yelling [obscenities] or make them take those shirts off. But we wish it would stop.

"It's a strange dynamic. We're crazy about the students. We give them the best seats in [Comcast Center]. We want them to be raucous. But you can create a home-court advantage without doing the things that are being done."

ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas, who is an experienced trial lawyer and a graduate of Duke, said he thinks the Maryland problem is a microcosm of what he has witnessed on campuses all over the Atlantic Coast Conference and beyond. He also thinks Maryland would be within its rights to eject such offending fans.

"It happens everywhere. The fans at Duke cross the line at certain times. I think the league needs to do something about it," Bilas said. "There is no constitutional right to be obscene in public. Buying a ticket does not give you license to be a vulgar raconteur."

Williams, who said he is considering addressing the home crowd, possibly as early as Sunday's game against N.C. State, agreed.

"I can't walk into a movie theater and yell fire," he said. "It's a shame, because there's kids there at the games [hearing the profanity]. I don't care what the laws are. It's not right."

Seminoles pull rank

Florida State looked like a program officially on the rebound as far back as Dec. 28, when the Seminoles knocked off Maryland. But last week marked a sharp turn in a recovery the school figured would come when it hired coach Leonard Hamilton in 2002.

By erasing a 24-point deficit and upsetting No. 7 North Carolina, then coming back three days later in the final minutes to knock off then-No. 10 Wake Forest on Sunday, Florida State became the first team in school history to defeat back-to-back Top 10 opponents. It marked the first time the Seminoles have beaten two consecutive ranked teams since February 1993.

And after each victory, students stormed the floor to celebrate at the Leon County Civic Center in Tallahassee. Hamilton said he thinks, in time, that practice will stop.

"You have to understand fans in Tallahassee have been hungry for basketball success. There's a lot of rich tradition that we're trying to rekindle," Hamilton said.

"The students are tremendously supportive. But we do want to get to the point where we're confident enough in what we're doing that we don't overreact when we have a certain measure of success. I think we're moving in the right direction."

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