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Incompetent usher indicative of careless change to football seating

Thursday, November 5, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 7:21 p.m. CST, Thursday, November 5, 2009

Mark probably would have rather been a comedian than an usher at Memorial Stadium, considering how amusing he found himself.

I didn't think he was that funny, but he could not possibly be worse at cracking jokes than he is at crowd control.

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When I first spotted Mark in his neon green event staff T-shirt standing just a few feet from me, I could not believe my good fortune. I was having a problem, and Mark was positioned perfectly to rescue me.

Because there had been so many issues with the new general admission policy in the student section, which included shrinking the size of each seat to maximize capacity, the athletics department had hired 40 extra ushers for this game against Furman.

I called Mark over and explained my situation. Unable to find a satisfactory seat of their own, a group of intoxicated girls had decided to stand on the bleacher in front of my friends and me, obscuring our view of the field. For that game, each student was officially allotted only 14 inches of space, and apparently these girls couldn't find any spare inches to squeeze into.

The change to the seating system, which was a joint venture between the athletics department and a student advisory board, expanded the student section from 10,000 to 12,600. Because no seats were actually being added, each student would be forced to occupy significantly less space to facilitate the 26 percent increase in capacity.

Apparently, the students hadn't packed in tight enough, leaving this group of girls standing on the bleachers, which is against the rules. An athletics department email sent before each game advises not to stand on them "for your own safety and the safety of those around you."

If standing on the bleachers is going to take place, however, there are unwritten rules governing the practice.

At times, when the excitement level reaches a climax or when someone exceptionally tall is standing in the first row, a chain-reaction of bleacher standing is often set off. The students in the second row climb up on the first row of bleachers, causing the people in the third row to stand on the second row of bleachers. Each successive row then mounts its bleacher in a sort of warped version of the wave.

The key here is that the total number of rows goes unaltered in the shift. But these girls were creating a row of their own by standing on a bleacher between two fully occupied rows.

I explained this to Mark in fewer and admittedly louder words. Once I had finished speaking, he grinned, shrugged his shoulders and walked away without taking any action against the offenders.

At the end of the first quarter, Mark returned. "It was your student government president (the MU Student Advisory Group for Intercollegiate Athletics, actually) that voted for this so don't blame me." As quickly as he said it he disappeared again. Witty? Maybe. Stealthy? Absolutely. But helpful? Not so much.

At halftime, with Missouri leading Furman 42-0, most of my section, including the view-obstructing girls, headed home (or for the bars), leaving several rows of open space in front of me. Midway through the third quarter, Mark surfaced again to deliver this gem: "I bet you won't have any problems seeing now."

I went home mostly satisfied despite my seating problems. I had been able to watch most of the game by standing on my tip-toes, and I was proud of myself for showing restraint in dealing with Mark the Comic Usher (working at a venue near you).

For the Nebraska game, each seat grew to 15.4 inches because the athletics department only sold 11,446 of the 12,600 student tickets. Maybe the demand wasn't quite as high as the student advisory board had thought.

It was freezing cold and pouring rain during the Nebraska game, and a group of guys a few rows behind me shared a cigarette to keep warm. Event staff either didn't notice or didn't care. Because of the chain-reaction principle described above, I spent the whole game standing on the bleachers, which wobble, teeter and shake a lot more than concrete. My knees cracked and ached for a week.

I didn't make it to the Homecoming game against Texas, but based on the stories I heard about students throwing plastic signs at each other, I'm not too sad I missed it.

Obviously, naughty behavior like this takes place at sporting events everywhere, regardless of whether the seats are general admission or assigned, 14 inches or 40 inches.

At an NFL game I attended this fall between the Giants and Chiefs in Kansas City, behavior in the stands turned ugly in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach for the home team. Looking around the stadium, it seemed that security guards were breaking up a fight in every section.

Both of my parents went to Penn State, and my mother is a huge football fan, watching both the Nittany Lions and the Pittsburgh Steelers on TV every weekend. But after being vomited on at a PSU football game, I don't think she'll ever return to Beaver Stadium.

Regardless of whether alcohol is served at the venue, many of the people at college or professional sporting events have been drinking, and people who have been drinking sometimes do stupid things. It's a simple science.

But that doesn't excuse the MU athletics department or the student advisers for their combined decision. If they wanted to fit more students in the stadium, they could have decreased the number of reserved seating tickets they sold. They also could have built an addition to the stadium.

As the freshman class became larger over the past couple of years, the university rented extra housing off campus. If the athletics department or student advisory board had been consulted, they surely would have proposed going three or four to a dorm room.

Sure, policing a student section full of screaming, drunk fans is no easy task. But by jamming those fanatics so close to one another and to the sober fans who have little tolerance for their antics, the athletics department is dumping kerosene on a house fire.

William Powell is a senior journalism student at MU and a copy editor for the Missourian.


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