“No touching” is the rule for visitors at prisons, at least if Arrested Development can be trusted. But the Michigan Athletic Department sent an email to students this week that threatened to take the first step toward making Yost Ice Arena a hands-off venue.

Anna Bakeman / Daily
The crowd reacts to the game against Notre Dame at Yost on January 31, 2009. The Wolverines lost the game 2-3.

To set the context for those of you who have been under a rock for over a week now, here is a brief history of what happened: Late in last Saturday night’s 5-3 win over Michigan State, two Spartans viciously attacked Michigan defenseman Steve Kampfer. As Kampfer lay motionless on the ice, a very loud chant started rumbling from the student section. “F.Y.S.” would be an appropriate acronym for the chant.

Minutes later, Kampfer’s father, Bruce, entered the visiting locker room and went after one of the Michigan State players involved in the incident.

On Thursday, the Athletic Department announced increased security standards around the visiting locker room at Yost. That same day, students received the aforementioned e-mail with the not-so-coded subject, “Fan Behavior.”

Here is the key excerpt from that e-mail: “We believe the fan conduct last week was not appropriate to Michigan standards and will not be tolerated in the future. The actions on the ice do not excuse what was heard or displayed. … We will eject, without warning, individuals who use profane language and/or make obscene gestures.”

That’s all well and good in theory, but part of being a fan at a sporting event is reacting to what takes place on the ice.

Clearly, what the Michigan State players did was serious. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have been suspended for the rest of the season. When something serious happens in the course of a game, the players, coaches and referees have an avenue to respond.

But so do the fans — and they have to do it with words instead of actions.

When tensions are high on the ice, they should be high in the stands, too.

If the fans weren’t meant to have a voice in how a game plays out, why would the Athletic Department be shelling out free tickets to men’s basketball games, giving out thunder sticks at hockey games and sending out countless e-mails urging students to go to women’s basketball games?

The Athletic Department knows fans are important to create a winning environment for its teams, but now they’re trying to tie fans’ hands.

Whatever the terms and conditions listed on the back of each ticket, the events at the end of last Saturday’s game more than warranted the response the student section gave. It’s probably a small miracle the animosity didn’t manifest in more dangerous ways.

And the real reason the Athletic Department is so upset is that “F.Y.S.” was clearly audible on television and YouTube videos that have been viewed more than 300,000 times.

Of course, the Athletic Department has the right to eject any fan, at any time, for any reason. But going too far down that path threatens to take away one of the pillars of Michigan hockey — the Yost student section.

No one is saying the student section is perfect. Chants often go over the line. But the well-reasoned majority always manages to rein in the outliers. When some students threw objects on the ice after last Saturday’s game, their peers booed them.

The student section has proven capable of policing itself.

If the Athletic Department wants to play assistant principal from here on out, well, there’s not much the students can do.

But the Athletic Department has a choice here, and the right one is to keep Yost a hands-on arena.

— Sandals can be reached at nsandals@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *