I am proud to call Madison, Wis. my home away from home. Despite being based in the Chicago area, I have had the pleasure of spending many weeks over the past nine months in Madison at AB Media headquarters. The office is located approximately one mile from the beautiful University of Wisconsin campus. Needless to say, many of my co-workers bleed Badger red and now, by extension, so do I. On Monday, I walked into the office to many smiling faces after Wisconsin's thrilling overtime victory over Arizona on Saturday punched the Badgers' ticket to the NCAA Men's Final Four. But while Wisconsin experienced the thrill of victory, Arizona took the agony of defeat to a sadly familiar level.
Several hundred disgruntled fans took to the streets of Tucson to throw bottles and firecrackers at police officers tasked with keeping the peace. In response, the police, wearing riot gear, shot pepper spray at those fans, arresting 15. Fortunately, there were no reported injuries. This isn't the first time the Wildcats faithful have taken a loss to extremes. In 2001, police arrested 17 students after Arizona lost to Duke in the championship game. But that was a championship game (not excusing the behavior); this was an Elite Eight game.
A collegiate riot after a disappointing loss — or even a big win — is nothing new. We've even covered the topic from all angles in the pages of Athletic Business in the past. For further proof, look no further than another school that was bounced from the NCAA tournament this weekend: Michigan State. In 1999, after a loss to Duke (apparently people take it really hard when their team loses to Duke) in the NCAA Final Four, between 5,000 and 10,000 fans set fire to couches and cars. When the dust settled, 132 people were arrested, including 71 students, and damages were assessed at around $500,000. Another school's fans that caused $500,000 in damages was the University of Maryland. In 2001, the Terrapins blew a 22-point lead in the Final Four, inspiring fans to smash storefronts, attack police and set a mobile home on fire. And you guessed it: They lost to Duke.
So what is it about these sporting events that bring out the inner maniac in college students? It seems almost magically, honor roll students can quickly abandon rational thought and find themselves immersed in the destructive mob mentality where breaking the law, destroying property and injuring others is not only considered acceptable, but is celebrated by those in that mob. Unfortunately, there is no simple solution, as this has been a topic that has been debated for decades. Whether it's stopping angry students from rioting or happy students from storming the court or field, the core theme is the same — protecting students, athletes, coaches and the community at large. What, if anything, can colleges and universities do to defuse a situation before it escalates, or is this type of situation unavoidable with emotions running so high and brain cells running so low?