Published Tuesday, February 11, 2014 at 12:00 am / Updated at 3:26 pm
Barfknecht: Marcus Smart incident is a reminder that rude fans are old hat

When Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart shoved a 50-year-old Texas Tech fan for calling him “a piece of crap'' during Saturday's game, it ripped the scab off a long-festering issue in basketball, a sport of high emotion and tight quarters:

Does a ticket-buyer earn the right to say or do most anything within the law without penalty?

Churlish fan behavior is far from new.

Nebraska coach Tim Miles on Monday recalled an NAIA road game in which the opposing school's football players sat behind his bench, heated pennies with a cigarette lighter and flipped them onto the necks and shoulders of his substitutes.

In a game at Oklahoma State in the late 1970s, Nebraska's Andre Smith and Carl McPipe went about 10 rows up the floor-side bleachers to try to get at hecklers.

Missouri's old student section “The Antlers'' was the national champion in boorish and crude behavior. The garbage I saw and heard at times made me want to go into the bleachers.

The Antlers were widely known for “researching'' opposing players for information to harass them. In 1988, a story had been written about Iowa State star Jeff Grayer playing to honor his ailing mother.

When the Cyclones warmed up before the game, the Antlers' referred to him as “a mama's boy'' and called his mother “a fat cow.''

As Grayer left the floor at the end of warmups, he politely asked the students to stop the insults because of his mother's health woes. When ISU came back on the floor, it started again, so Grayer waded into the stands before being restrained.

Unranked Missouri defeated No. 10 Iowa State 119-93, and Grayer admitted the personal attacks of his mother affected him.

“I don't mind if they taunt me,'' he said that day. “But when they want to get personal, that's where I draw the line. That can cause fights.''

Most Big Ten coaches on Monday said fans will be fans.

“You don't respond to them,'' said Purdue coach Matt Painter, who will hear plenty Saturday when instate rival Indiana invades. “That's the best way to go about it. That might be the only way.

“They paid the money for a ticket. They can sit there and scream and yell what they want. Sometimes it's not positive and not politically correct and it's wrong, but you have to ignore them.''

But Michigan State coach Tom Izzo sees a new dynamic — the world of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

“I'm a social media basher. I hate it,'' said Izzo, in his 31st year at MSU, the past 19 as head coach. “I don't think there is any question everything has changed the last three years.''

The seemingly nonstop social interaction college players and fans have today, Izzo said, creates tension not just during a game but before and after, too.

“You never get away from it,'' he said. “You go there and get chewed on, and that's normal. You can take that. Then you get on the bus and you're still getting chewed on by their fans or your fans.''

Trying to limit social media access is fruitless.

“Telling them not to read it is like telling them not to breathe,'' Izzo said. “So I think that's created a whole new problem.

“I don't think fans are much different than they were, except they are so ignorant on Twitter. Fans get so cocky now because they can hide behind their little computer and say things.''

Northwestern coach Chris Collins is well versed on college basketball crowd behavior.

As a former player and assistant coach at Duke — known for its student section “The Cameron Crazies'' — he has heard many clever cheers, and others so far over the line that they were stopped by head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Like Izzo, Collins is concerned that social media has heightened the tension at sporting events.

“Fans can get to the players in more ways leading up to the games,'' he said. “More people feel they have a bigger freedom of speech to say whatever they want. That has made it a little more dangerous.''

Let's try for a little more decorum instead.

* * *

Video: Smart incident

Video: Fox Sports talks about Smart's draft stock

Contact the writer: Lee Barfknecht    |   402-444-1024    |  

Lee Barfknecht has won nine national writing awards from four separate organizations, and is a 12-time winner of the Nebraska sportswriter of the year award. He covers Big Ten football and basketball, Nebraska basketball and other college financial issues for The World-Herald.



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