U hosts Big Ten sportsmanship conference

by Derek Wetmore

TCF Bank Stadium played host to the second Big Ten Sportsmanship and Spirit Conference this weekend, which brought together representatives from all of the Big Ten schools except Nebraska to discuss issues and initiatives related to sportsmanship and spirit in conference athletics. Assistant Director of Student Unions and Activities Mandi Watkins Soderlund and University of Minnesota student Brittany Geissler organized this yearâÄôs conference, deciding that the newness of the stadium and the issues it has faced made it a relevant place for the University to host the event. One of the chief issues discussed, after all, was the often-debated topic of selling alcohol and dealing with its effects at games. The first such conference was held two years ago at Ohio State University and the program is gaining steam âÄî and funds âÄî as the members hope to keep the semi-annual tradition running. There was no conference in 2009, but Iowa has already expressed interest in hosting the event next year in Iowa City, as several Big Ten schools hope to make it an annual tradition. MinnesotaâÄôs Check BAC program, which requires students who get kicked out of a football game to take a breath test before being allowed into another game that season, was a major topic at this yearâÄôs conference. Minnesota doesnâÄôt allow alcohol at TCF Bank Stadium âÄî even to persons of legal age âÄî and the program is in place to more effectively enforce that rule. However, ticket holders arenâÄôt told of the Check BAC standards prior to purchasing season tickets. These standards can lead to revocation of season tickets for violations. ItâÄôs a developing program which is only as old as the stadium, and Office for Student Conduct and Academic Integrity Director Sharon Dzik said the administration is still working to correct perceived problems. Various ideas have been proposed to combat excessive drinking, particularly the âÄúpre-game blitz,âÄù including having pre-game Guitar Hero tournaments on the stadiumâÄôs big screen, Gophers fan ambassador Jacob Pittman said. Athletics Director Joel Maturi , Vice Provost for Student Affairs Jerry Rinehart and Alumni Association CEO Phil Esten all spoke Thursday, welcoming members from other schools and introducing the topics of the conference. Spirit sustainability Financial support for the sportsmanship initiatives could become a question in the near future, and MinnesotaâÄôs Gopher Sports Council is working to secure funding to make the group sustainable. They already have a commitment from Student Affairs and University Athletics to continue to support the initiatives of the program. Currently, sportsmanship and spirit initiatives are covered by an NCAA CHOICES Grant , but that support runs out in 2012. The Gopher Sports Council is working specifically with the three âÄúbig moneyâÄù sports this year âÄî menâÄôs hockey, menâÄôs basketball and football âÄî but as the program expands, they hope to include the non-revenue sports in their initiatives as well. The primary concern in the programâÄôs first year was the dwindling attendance of spirit section members at football games as the season progressed. In the first game at TCF Bank Stadium, the spirit section, which guarantees reserved seats at the front of the student section, swelled with more than 250 members. The warm weather and newness of the stadium were believed to contribute to that. But a simultaneous drop in the temperature, optimism surrounding the team and the head coachâÄôs approval rating coincided with an astonishing drop-off in the spirit section to as few as 30 students. To combat that, the spirit section is limited to 100 members this year to ensure only the dedicated members will be granted seats. Spirit section members will also not have to arrive two and a half hours prior to game time, as previously required. Instead, the seats will be reserved for them until thirty minutes prior to kickoff.