Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Siena Students Rush the Court . . . Again!

I was five rows from center court when Siena outlasted Fairfield in overtime to capture a third straight MAAC Championship last night, thus punching the school’s ticket to the NCAA dance. As the final seconds ticked down, I flashed back to ’94 when I watched, in person, my first ever Siena Saints basketball game at the TU (then the Knick). In that game a little guy named Doremus Bennerman led the Saints past Travis Best and his Georgia Tech squad. It’s one of my greatest memories growing up. This basketball program has made so many great memories for the Capital Region. To say this team is one of the best in all of America is not an overstatement by any estimation. And last night’s come-from-behind win was a fitting way for the school’s finest senior class on record to seal their time at the TU and the MAAC Tournament’s time in Albany, for the foreseeable future at least. The game was great. What happened afterwards was anything but.

"I knocked over a security guard," one student said. "I hit him in the face, he fell, and I ran over him. No lie."

Even though the Times Union Center, MAAC officials, and the school itself urged the 700-800 Siena students attending the game not to storm the playing area as they’ve done two years in a row, even moving the student section off the floor and into regular seating, the students decided to do whatever they wanted to do. So, as the final seconds ticked away, storms of yellow-shirted co-eds left their seats and poured in waves down the narrow walkways, as security frantically readied themselves for the disobedient and dangerous onslaught of drunken students. The school band packed up shop, the cheerleaders headed for the hills, and the arena’s atmosphere of excitement was replaced by a palpable fear of what would happen when the final gun sounded and the celebration began. Then the gun did sound, and boy oh boy, the celebration came as Siena’s drunked-up students jumped the barriers and pounded through security people, knocking some to the floor, tossing others aside, and generally showing no regard for human safety. For several minutes they came pouring through security in waves, until the court was covered in students jumping up and down, others dancing for the news cameras, and others doing basically anything they wanted, as security, TU General Manager Bob Belber, and Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings looked on helplessly.

"I know that Rich (MAAC commissioner Ensor) is going to hate me to say this, but it was just kids being kids,'' said Times Union Center general manager Bob Belber. "Our security people are trained to let people go when it gets out of hand. We don't want any of our people getting hurt and we don't want any of the kids hurt." Are you kidding me? That's the company line coming from the TU's GM? Umm, OK. His people are taught to submit? So if I really want to rush Billy Joel's stage Thursday night, security will let me if I have enough of my friends and we're really, really determined. Talk about the tail wagging the dog. In Belber's defense I saw him personally pushing kids back into the stands, for a while at least. Then . . .

In a matter of minutes, the focus went from what this incredible Siena Saints basketball team had just accomplished to this motley crew of students mobbing the players and highjacking the moment for themselves. But the truth is this basketball team doesn’t just belong to a liberal arts college in Loudonville, overcrowded with meatheads and spoiled brats who’ve never heard the word no. This team belongs to the entire region, and it was that way a whole lot of years before these kids came here. From the chants of “You suck,” and “a*&hole,” and “f*&^k you” raining from the student section all weekend, to the beer being poured onto the arena floor from the seats above, to the drunken displays all over Pearl Street, these over-privileged snobs treated Albany and its people like their personal toilet bowl. And the truth is the behavior of these same Siena students the past few years is really (in large part) what cost Albany the MAAC Tournament. That’s the truth, whether Bob Belber and the MAAC want to admit it or not. Neutrality? Yeah right. I’m sure any good businessman would move the tourney from a place that pulled 53,000 fans in 3 days. Yeah right. Albany businesses send their collective thanks.

One Siena court rusher complained about security: "They were actually hitting us. When we tried to move, they were trying to attack." Yeah, moron. That’s what happens when you break the rules and put people’s lives at risk for your own amusement. Don’t believe me about how bad Siena fans are. After one win in the NCAA Tournament last year, Siena students gained the reputation as one of the worst, most unruly fan-bases in the nation. Google it. I’m sure Siena students will read this and think of themselves as cool. And if that’s what they need to do, fine by me. Just know I’m not trying to be the old man, blowhard, lecturing college kids about fun, that’s not what I’m saying here. Last year, I watched as the students rushed and I really enjoyed it. Then the press table began to wobble and computer monitors were turned over, and the potential for someone to get hurt was huge. But this year was even worse, because the arena took preventative steps to stop the students, and the students rushed anyway, and in doing so doubled the risk for injury. Honestly, I’m all about having fun, but it was an ugly scene. Now these brats get to graduate and the rest of the region is left with no MAAC Tournament. What can I say? It sucks!

In all this I wondered what role head coach Fran McCaffrey was playing. The same coach who said "safety" was the reason he sent his players to the locker room on Saturday before shaking hands with a dirty Manhattan team (a move I completely agreed with), seemingly did nothing to deter Siena students from rushing the court two nights later. If he's so concerned about safety, where was his voice of reason Monday night? Maybe it's unfair to blame Fran, but I thought he could've at least given the impression he was unhappy with the students and not smiling away with the chaos.

The following scene summed up the whole weekend for me. Sometime after the Siena win on Saturday, the cheerleaders, for some reason, began this huge group cry on the sidelines. Rumor was they were told they would not accompany the team to the NCAA’s, as crazy as that timing seems. Anyway this cheerleading team crying jag went on pathetically in front of 8,000 fans. Then, after the game, it spread out into the arena’s walkways, cheerleaders boo-hooing everywhere. Finally someone said to one of the cheerleader’s mothers, comforting her sad, little princess, “Can you please take this crying child home?” Yes, I agree. Take all these crying children home.

Read: http://blog.timesunion.com/collegesports/students-werent-going-to-be-denied-their-celebration/7488/

Brian Huba

1 comment:

  1. The recent storming of the field from Minnesota after they beat Iowa last weekend gas brought this issue up at Big Ten schools as well. Some media are saying it's poor form by the Gophers to rush the field while others are saying it's an important rivalry win for a rebuilding program. There's been a good debate at TC Huddle. I found your article searching for more opinions on the issue.

    Thought you might want to check it out. It's enjoyable if nothing else: http://www.tchuddle.com/2011/10/the-importance-of-the-iowa-win/