Sunday, January 29, 2012

On Last Night's Game

Last week when BYU lost to Loyola Marymount I drafted but didn't publish a blog post talking about my love of BYU sports and how I try to not get so wound up in the flow of athletic competition that my emotional well-being is determined by the outcome of the game I'm watching. It's something that I've been trying to get under control for a couple years now, and while I'm not perfectly capable of always keeping things in perspective and I do get frustrated occasionally, I'm doing a lot better. The Loyola Marymount game caused one of those thankfully rare occasions of frustration. For whatever reason I didn't post that little bit of writing. But last night as I watched St. Mary's dismantle my beloved Cougars I found myself frustrated anew, but for a very different reason.

I've been to a lot of BYU games in the now going on 6 years that I've been here. I've been there for some great triumphs and some heart-wrenching defeats. I've seen some bad officiating and bad sportsmanship on the part of the fans on several occasions (Wake Forest '09 comes immediately to mind), but I've never been quite so disgusted with fan behavior as I was last night.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all about a good boo every now and then, and I'm not above a little taunting of both opposing teams and referees. I booed last night at the first few perceived bad calls from the refs and found the chants of "U.S.A., U.S.A." every time St. Marys' Australian point guard came to the line rather funny. But as the game progressed the fans just got worse and worse. With every little thing the refs did everyone was booing and yelling fit to wake the dead. It wasn't so much the booing and yelling that bothered me, but rather the malice and hatred for the refs that did it. It seemed like people were more intent on vilifying the refs than they were on watching and enjoying the game. By focusing so single-mindedly on the officiating, the game was made much more difficult to enjoy for all involved I'm sure. Granted I probably wouldn't have enjoyed it much anyway considering the fact that BYU couldn't hit a 3 if their lives depended on it, but as the game came to a close with a rousing chant of "Worst Refs Ever," I felt sick and admittedly somewhat ashamed to be associated with the BYU student body. I wasn't ashamed to be BYU fan, just ashamed to be a part of the disgusting display that was our student section last night.

Now I realize that I'm painting with overly broad strokes here and that not everyone was so riled up and angry, but fan bases are often referred to, in basketball, as the 6th man. Five men on the floor, the sixth a collective body in the stands. By that logic I'm really not being too dramatic or unfair to lump us all together in this way, myself included.

After a technical foul was called on the crowd and the end result was 5 points for the Gaels, I took a step back and consciously decided that the outcome of the game wasn't going to determine my outlook on life. By making that decision to try and emotionally detach myself from the game I was able to watch the game a little bit differently, and what I saw rather surprised me.

Yes, the refs were bad. Really bad. I'm not sure I'd call them the worst ever, but they were bad. That said, they were equally bad going both ways. They were equally inconsistent on what they did and didn't consider a foul, blind to traveling violations on both ends of the floor, and seemingly unable (or incapable) of figuring out who touched the ball last before it went out of bounds. But like I said, the refs made as many bad calls that went against St. Mary's as they did those aimed at BYU. So if the refs were equally bad at officiating on both ends of the court, why was everyone so angry?

I'll tell you why. Because BYU wasn't playing well. They looked hurried and out of sync the whole game. They couldn't hit a shot from outside if their eternal salvation was hanging in the balance, and all the while St. Mary's went about the business of winning the game. That aspect of the game was, admittedly, very frustrating. But rather than being frustrated with our team and coping as best we could, as a body of fans we took out our ire on the refs. The whole atmosphere in the Marriott Center was sickeningly negative. Even as the boys in blue made a push to make the game competitive the air of negativity wouldn't go away.

I've always loved college basketball, especially BYU basketball, for the emotional ride it puts you through. But usually, at least in Provo, it's clean, good-spirited fun that rides the wave of competition. Last night it was as if everyone's collective mothers, girl/boyfriends and dogs were being insulted with every tweet of the ref's whistle. I shudder to think what might have happened if BYU weren't a stone-cold sober university.

Frankly, I don't care how bad the officiating was. From where I'm standing, there's no call for that kind of behavior ever at a sporting contest. Ever.

All in all, it was a disillusioning night for Cougar basketball, and I hope it's never repeated.

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