PACKED like sardines, students scream and cheer, jumping in time and risking their very lives. No, you're not in the mosh pit at your favorite rock band's concert. Instead, you're in the student section at a University football game.
The unfavorable student seating situation at Saturday's football game against Virginia Tech shows once again where the University's priorities lie. Instead of focusing on its students and their happiness, the University has been led astray, seduced by the promise of quick cash.
Of course, the game was crowded and we were all standing on our seats, the excitement electric and almost tangible in the air. As usual, the bodies pressing in on all sides almost suffocated us with the odor of sweat. This is the essence of the University football game experience, and I'd never argue for the elimination of this high-heel-foot-aching, drunken-swaying, tradition-laden scene. There is a point, however, at which concerns for safety, comfort and enjoyment make it essential that the University limit the number of people admitted to the stadium. The game on Saturday -- with its record attendance of 51,800 -- reached this point.
Technically, no one was denied entrance on Saturday because only about 11,100 people entered through the student section, almost 2,000 short of the maximum number. But student guests could enter through any gate and some may have avoided the student entrance for fear of being turned away. The 3,000 student guests likely caused attendance in the student section to surpass maximum capacity.
That meant that anyone who needed to use a restroom or visit the concessions stand could only do so by risking separation from friends for the duration of the game. Not an earth-shattering concern, certainly, but at least an inconvenience to students just trying to perform basic daily functions. Additionally, it was a miserable job for the security guards who had to regulate students who were frustrated and often rude.
The overcrowding was, in fact, foreseen, and it prompted the Athletic Department to issue a warning that admittance to the student seating would be limited to 13,000. But instead of denying entrance to University students, the University should have taken measures to ensure that all students who desired were able to enter the game freely. To do this the Athletic Department should have further limited the sale of student guest tickets.
Three thousand student guest tickets are available for all home football games, and for the Tech game, these tickets sold out. The Athletic Department benefits financially from selling these tickets. But preventing bleachers from wobbling under the weight of jumping Wahoos and limiting the potential for fights between rival fans should be more important than money. So should the promise -- often touted to prospective students in tours -- that University students are admitted free to all athletic events, since a small portion of each student's tuition goes to the Athletic Department.
Decreasing the number of student guest tickets decreases the number of fans of the opposing team free to taunt -- and be taunted by -- Virginia fans. This decreases the potential for fights and makes the thankless job of security guards easier. In a personal interview, Athletic Director Terry Holland said that by allowing students to purchase only two student guest tickets each for the Tech game, he hoped to limit the number of tickets sold to Tech fans. But decreasing the actual number of these tickets available for sale would have better served this purpose while also making the game less crowded. Besides, the lost revenue most likely would have been made up in concessions stands sales if students could have left and returned to their seats without restraint.
Also, student guest ticket holders should be required to enter through the student gates. This would allow security guards to monitor the number of fans in the student section to ensure that it never exceeds maximum capacity.
Virginia Tech is our biggest rival -- and for the first time the game wasn't held over Thanksgiving Weekend -- so it is not surprising that students came out in record numbers. If more people had attended, or more student guests had entered through the student entrance, University students would have been turned away. Students are loyal, excited supporters of University sports. Just because we don't contribute lump-sum million-dollar donations to the University -- outside of our tuition, anyway -- doesn't mean our safety and comfort aren't important now. If the University wants to think about the money factor, it should consider that those students who have positive experiences at football games are the ones who will buy season tickets in the future.
Expansions to the stadium are well underway, and so this problem should be alleviated next season. But with an increasing number of students flocking to games and the tendency to sell enough student guest tickets to crowd seating, the problem may arise again.
As we have seen many times this year, student interests often clash with tempting ways to receive money. But the University must decide where its priorities lie. Let's hope that a pleasant and safe environment for its students is a prime concern, so we can cheer on our team, minus the moshing.
(Jennifer Schaum is a Cavalier Daily associate editor.)