Student Affairs, Athletics work to improve sportsmanship
For nearly three hours each home football Saturday during the fall, head coach Lloyd Carr has 110,000-plus people telling him what to do: throw the ball more, go for it on fourth down, change quarterbacks.
For a few moments each home game at Michigan Stadium, Carr talks back, delivering a simple message to the fans via videotape played on the stadium's scoreboards: "Respect the Game." Carr and the other 10 coaches in the Big Ten Conference are part of a league-wide effort to encourage better sportsmanship at games.
Recently, the University's Division of Student Affairs and Department of Intercollegiate Athletics embarked on a campaign to build on Carr's message and encourage a campus dialogue about how to behave and show good sportsmanship at U-M athletic events. The messages complement those put forth by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Big Ten during the past year.
"Michigan is a university that is a leader, and we wanted to get out in front of this issue and be in a better place to deal with it," says Dean of Students Ed Willis. "We have involved the students and listened to them. We are pleased that students are taking a leadership role."
Willis commended Carr for taking the lead before the start of the season.
"One of the issues that we're trying to get our hands around in college football is the sportsmanship issue," Carr said at an Aug. 25 press conference. His statement is the basis for a campus ad campaign. Print ads appear on University buses and in the residence halls, with plans to use additional media to spread the word across campus. "It is a vital issue; we've taken great pride at Michigan that our fans conduct themselves in a way that made all of us proud. We want Michigan to continue to be a place that is hospitable to everyone."
Carr's initial message was meant to discourage a student tradition of throwing marshmallows on the field. While it was a direct plea to the student population, both Student Affairs and Athletics emphasize that U-M students are not solely responsible for inappropriate fan behavior.
"[The scoreboard announcement] is absolutely a message to everyone in the stadium, not just students," says Mike Stevenson, executive associate director of athletics. "We are appealing to all fans of intercollegiate athletics to step up and show some classthe Michigan way.
"We are tremendously encouraged by the efforts that were made to stop the marshmallow throwing," Stevenson says. "It stopped almost overnight, and the students deserve almost all of the credit for that."
Student season ticket holders received a flyer addressing appropriate fan behavior during the summer. Long-term efforts will include developing an alcohol awareness campaign and a survey of student season ticket holders regarding their expectations of behavior at athletic events.
"This is a nationwide problem, not just a U-M problem. It has become necessary to take some action, and these efforts are great," says Peter Lund, "SuperFan IV" and president of the "Maize Rage"the student cheering section for men's basketball games. "We want to make [Crisler Arena] a hostile environment, but we do not support negative behavior.
"[The Maize Rage] is such a visible part of the game, we do our best to stop all profanity and bad behavior," says Lund, a senior economics major. "I care very much about the reputation of this University, and [the administration] can draw on the students to care for it."
U-M hockey coach Red Berenson also took a proactive approach with Wolverine fans. Prior to the Oct. 17 game at Yost Ice Arena, Berenson came on the ice to address fans about some of their cheers. Berenson objected to one particular cheer: When a player from a visiting team goes to the penalty box, he is serenaded with a "see ya" chant, followed by a stream of obscenities.
"Two of our most-respected coaches took a stand, and it has made an impact," Stevenson says. "We are moving in the right direction."
The NCAA addressed the issue in February with a Sportsmanship and Fan Behavior Summit in Dallas. In August, the Big Ten enacted a series of crowd control initiatives to address fan behavior and improve security for visiting teams and officials.
"For more than 100 years, the Big Ten Conference has focused on fairness and sportsmanship, and we want everyone involved with our competitions to uphold these values," Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany says. "Our message is simple, Respect the Game.'"
Stevenson says the Big Ten took action, in part, because of rioting and fan behavior in Columbus following last year's football game between U-M and Ohio State.
U-M officials hope their efforts ensure civility and sportsmanship Nov. 22 when Ohio State plays at Michigan Stadium. The game represents the 100th anniversary of the football rivalry between the two schools.