Disclaimer: An explanation of unusual events in The Spectrum (although also unusual, this wasn't about the basketball played on the court) has been asked for by many 800GP readers, so I'll do my best to describe what went down.
Built in 1970 and paid for by students, The Dee Glen Smith Spectrum has always been a magical place for Utah State basketball. Housing an impressive 75% winning percentage for the home team in over 40 years of basketball, The Spectrum has only in recent years gained national notoriety as being one of the toughest place for opposing college basketball teams to play.
As discussed previously, under current head Coach Stew Morrill's tenure, the Aggies have amassed an astounding 195-14 winning record in the building. In March of 2007, when I witnessed my 6th of Morrill's 12 home losses, I wondered if the home record would reach 200 wins before 15 losses. At the time I had no idea only one home loss would occur in the next four seasons.
You can plausibly argue that a major part of the Aggie success at home and a key contributor to the "Spectrum Magic" is the rowdy student section. Aggie student fans have always felt ownership over the building and even part of the program as the athletics department campaigned to raise student fees significantly two years ago. It's no surprise that they let their voices be heard night in and out trying to rattle, confuse and downright alarm opposing teams. While many jeers and chants have the outward appearance of being incredibly condescending, the student section as a whole has never been involved in swear-word laden cheers as can be heard frequently on television broadcasts at other venues. Stew Morrill loves the students and has often said they toe the line frequently, but rarely step over it. Minus a few obnoxious and overly passionate fans (every crowd has a few), I agree with this observation.
After many games the same rabid, and vicious students go over to chat with opposing coaches, players and fans to show no hard feelings - it's just a game. More often than not, those coaches and players are pleasant in return and praise the students, wishing their fans could be just as passionate.
With no disrespect to past and present Aggie players and coaches, to some degree The Spectrum environment and student section has grown in notoriety much faster than the program itself. Evidence is everywhere. Just typing "USU Aggies" into YouTube brings up video results littered with student section activity. The USU basketball and football programs both use The Spectrum as a major recruiting tool. Even official university marketing materials frequently uses video imagery of the raucous Spectrum to aid in gaining donor funding and new prospective students. This is all even without the boost of Wild Bill in the last couple of years.
Fast forward this rolling boulder to the Aggie home opener this season against in-state rival BYU, where students developed a #OccupyTheSpectrum campaign, camping out in line for multiple days before the game just to get in The Spectrum. As would be expected, the student crowd was loud, vicious and on top of their game. The brunt of the student jeering was focused on Brandon Davies, who after being slung through the mud and dismissed by his own school last year for violating the BYU honor code, was back in action on the Cougar roster. The general intent was more of a knock at the perceived hypocrisy of the honor code system than a direct attack on a particular player. Brandon Davies just happened to be an unfortunate victim stuck in the firing line of the Aggie Students.
As crazy as the atmosphere was that night, it wasn't the rowdiest, nastiest student crowd I've ever seen in The Spectrum - not even as bad as the previous BYU visit two years earlier after a long absence. After receiving complaints about off-color signs and perhaps a chant or two, USU administration officials decided to sit down with the student body government officials over athletics to ask them to tone things down a bit and agreed on a self-policing measure so that things don't continually get out of hand. While this discussion was appreciated, it seemed an afterthought by those involved. If signs were too racy, or spoken words unappreciated, why wasn't any action taken at the game where the offense occurred?
The next home game against SUU seemed normal for students but with more awareness following the talk with administration. Nothing out of the ordinary happened in The Spectrum, with exception to SUU almost winning the game. There was no further discussion between school officials as none was warranted.
A couple days after the SUU game (11 days after the BYU game) an official letter of apology was extended to BYU regarding the students' behavior at the game that night. Some students were even described as being beyond "human decency." An apology letter of this nature can be perceived in many ways. To some it was the correct move in a political environment that may have been forced by Aggie donors, BYU fans, or both. At best, to the students this letter was a slap on the wrist for some individuals who were overly crude. At worst it was a tactless slap in the face to the tradition that the students have built at USU over the years. Immediate ire took place as a result of the letter, but as it usually does, animosity died down in the following days as well as any thoughts of causing a scene in response.
Finally, we get to the Denver game last night. Upon admission to the arena, student fans had every intention on a "business as usual" attitude - remember - the one that has made The Spectrum famous. However, in an escalation of authority following "The Letter," students were greeted with an increased authoritarian presence by event staff which included threats of removal for violating "new rules." In the past when students have perhaps gone overboard, administration officials have gotten in their faces and told them to calm down. Eventually things would blow over and The Spectrum would be back to normal. This time it was different.
Students were told verbally that they would be removed from the game and forfeit their student ID card if they violated the following: No leaning over the front bar. No pointing at anyone on the court. No use of the word "suck" or "stupid." No personal attacks singling out one player. There may have been others, but I didn't hear them.
These "new rules" were enforced and watched over by extra event staff during the game. Keep in mind that the student ID is the document allowing students to get into athletic events, computer labs, cafeterias and even testing centers. This was not an idle threat that could be ignored. If you've ever seen the student section in action, these "new rules" completely rendered them impotent with respect to normal operation.
In an impromptu response to the new and inane heavy-handedness, the students decided to sit down and be silent for the first three minutes of the game to send a message that they are a lot of what makes The Spectrum a magical place. In effect, the silence showed what the arena would sound like if they were stifled by administrators. After three minutes were up, the students got up and cheered their guts out. Fans listening at home thought that they needed to adjust their radio before the students finally started to make noise. If you go back and watch the video feed on ESPN3, you can hear why. Even the announcers were baffled.
Since the "new rules" forbade almost all of the regular antics, the students got creative and instead of "You will miss it" cheered "Please don't make it" during one of Chris Udofia's free throw attempts. Of course the Udofia made the shot, so instead of the regular rebuttal "You still suck," students changed it to "We said please!" The second free throw was missed and as the players came down the court, a rousing refrain of "Thank you" was heard. This amusing adaptation was a delight to fans around the arena.
While being neutered from the atmosphere the students have created for so many years, they did their best to be loud during the game, but the performance on the floor made it hard to cheer for the home team. Although the Aggies mounted a valiant comeback to close the first half, after the first few minutes of the second half, most of us knew the result was never in doubt. With a precision I've never encountered by an opposing team in The Spectrum, the Princeton offense Denver employed carved up the Aggies like your favorite Norbest.
Denver's seeming inability to miss a shot and swarming defense really challenged a young Aggie team. The result was the worst home loss for USU since Nevada's smack down in 2006. Anyone who didn't see this coming obviously hasn't followed the Pioneers this year. The style of basketball Denver plays truly embodies The Beautiful Game, and the 67-54 victory was well-deserved.
Critics say that maybe the students' 3 minutes of inaction caused the Aggies to lose the game. To me this reaction is absurd and says three things. The students really are a factor in The Spectrum. True. Aggie players aren't good enough to play with minor distraction. TBD, but I suspect false. But worst, it diminishes the impressive game Denver played as if their merits weren't enough for the win. False.
As far as I can tell the sit-out achieved the desired effect - attention. Students wanted to show their unhappiness in a tangible, but pleasant way. They want to preserve the atmosphere that many love and is feared by opposing teams nationwide. They definitely could have gone the other direction and become an unholy nightmare unleashed on Denver, but didn't. Attention has been received as the backlash of the past couple weeks is on the forefront of sports fans and media throughout the state.
Many, including myself, wonder what is coming next in The Spectrum. Who knows, but I hope it returns to "business as usual" as once again Aggie students take hold of the building they own and keep it the fortress they've created. A rebuilding team and a restless fan base surely have "interesting" written all over Aggie basketball this year.
DENVER 67, at UTAH STATE 54 11/30/2011
DENVER 5-1 (0-0) -- J. Washington 1-5 2-3 4; B. Stafford 5-9 0-1 12; C. Hallam 4-8 0-0 11; C. Udofia 5-8 5-6 15; R. O'Neale 1-3 2-2 5; R. Lewis 6-8 2-2 15; B. Olson 1-3 0-0 3; J. Coughlin 1-3 0-0 2; B. Foeman 1-1 0-0 2; T. Hallam 1-5 0-0 2. Totals 25-48 9-11 67. UTAH STATE 3-3 (0-0) -- P. Medlin 5-12 1-2 13; B. Pane 4-9 4-5 12; M. Grim 3-7 5-8 11; A. Thoseby 0-2 0-0 0; K. Reed 3-5 0-0 6; B. Clifford 0-1 0-0 0; M. Bruneel 3-4 0-0 6; J. Stone 1-1 4-4 6; S. Thornton 0-0 0-0 0; E. Farris 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-41 14-19 54.
Three-point goals: DEN 8-20 (R. Lewis 1-3; B. Stafford 2-4; T. Hallam 0-3; C. Hallam 3-4; C. Udofia 0-2; R. O'Neale 1-2; B. Olson 1-2), USU 2-4 (P. Medlin 2-3; B. Clifford 0-1); Rebounds: DEN 21 (C. Udofia 6), USU 27 (M. Grim 8); Assists: DEN 16 (J. Coughlin 3), USU 6 (P. Medlin 2); Total Fouls -- DEN 17, USU 12; Fouled Out: DEN-None; USU-None.