Come on, guys. Where’s the ingenuity? Where’s the innovation? Where are the wiles of the Duke student section, which, in the game after it was publicly admonished once for stepping over the line, greeted a wayward official’s call with chants of “We beg to differ!”
Thirty years ago, I was watching a University of Washington basketball game at Duke on TV. Somebody from the Huskies missed everything with a shot, and the students took up the chant “Air ball!”
First time I ever heard that. Three decades later, students at college games are still chanting “Air ball,” like they’ve hit upon something novel. They also yell “You got swatted!” after a blocked shot, and “Left, right, left” to accompany a disqualified player to the bench after his fifth foul.
Come on, guys. While this week’s burning issue is again court-storming, another question: Where’s the ingenuity? Where’s the innovation? Where are the wiles of the Duke student section, which, in the game after it was publicly admonished once for stepping over the line, greeted a wayward official’s call with chants of “We beg to differ!”
OK, Davidson’s swim team has taken to wearing Speedos to incite torment of basketball visitors. But overall, where’s the imagination of the Cal student rooters a few years ago? After considerable cellphone research, they ferreted out the identity of the ex-girlfriend who had just dumped a USC player and befouled his free throws by chanting her first name when he stepped to the line. (He missed both.)
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Juliana Borges understands. A senior in public health at Washington, she says she valued the fact the UW was a quality school when she considered colleges, “but I was equally excited about the sports scene.”
Now, not so much, after years of faithful membership in the Dawg Pack. Surely the downturn in basketball at the UW has dampened interest, but she senses something more than decreased student numbers. Clever has departed the building, here and elsewhere.
“I definitely agree,” she says.
So give the students at Arizona State props for coming up with something new. Loopy, yes, but different. At a school whose basketball success has been highly sporadic, they’re in the second season of regaling – in some cases, repulsing – fans with the Curtain of Distraction.
At the end of Wells Fargo Arena where opponents shoot free throws in the second half, they’ve fashioned a curtain with a framework of PVC pipe. As the opposing foul shooter steps to the line, the curtain is flung open, revealing a whole range of bizarre acts.
Viewers might see the Richard Simmons twins, two rotund guys in short shorts doing lunges and squats. Sometimes there’s a dude paddling a kayak, being attacked by a shark. Or it could be a takeoff on Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball.”
“We were definitely nervous,” Anji Kumar, a junior statistics major, told me by phone from ASU last week as she recalled the Curtain’s beginning, “that people weren’t going to like it, thinking it was too obnoxious in general.”
Truth be told, there’s some of that, says Patrick Carlson, a sophomore political science major and another of the 942 Crew’s organizers (named for the seating capacity of the lower student section).
“Kids will tweet us, ‘That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen,’ ” Carlson says.
The perpetrators agree, though, that the reaction has been more positive than negative.
“Their creativity has fast become legend,” says Herb Sendek, the ASU coach. “A lot of people are really getting a kick out of it. It seems like I’ve done more interviews about the Curtain of Distraction than any other topic.”
No wonder Sendek likes it. Numbers from associate AD Bill Kennedy, who oversees the group, reveal that in the two seasons of the Curtain opponents are hitting just 61.4 percent of their free throws facing it, compared to 75.3 at that end the year before. This year, they’ve hit 66.7 at the orderly end, 62.7 when encountering two horseheads making out.
I asked ASU senior business legal studies major Nick Granillo what other advancements the 942 Crew has made.
“We had a young lady who used to be in the Crew with us,” he said. “She used to make this kind of horn noise with her mouth, and another guy could make this high-pitched squealing noise with his lips. So we’d have a combo.”
Across college basketball last year, attendance was down, and more markedly in the Pac-12. It probably stands to reason that’s also affecting student sections. And I believe Borges is onto something when she says: “I think it’s like the culture of college sports. As colleges get more competitive to get into, sports aren’t on the minds of students as much.”
Frequently, the winners of those admissions processes are foreign students, who may not be as familiar, or as engaged, with the notion of the sassy student section.
What a concept: College, a place to get educated rather than get crazy. What would Flounder think?