DENVER — The question is depressing to consider but entirely appropriate: Is college football worth all the trouble it causes?
Such a query snaps into sharp focus in light of the riot at the conclusion of Colorado State University's stunning upset of the University of Colorado here last weekend, 41-14.
The game itself was fascinating, a quintessential study of what happens when an underdog finds it has bite to go with its bark. CSU has been the underrespected stepchild in Colorado higher education, forced to grit its teeth and accept its role as inferior in every aspect to the University of Colorado. Worse, CU has handled its position with insufferable arrogance.
So even the most ardent CU fans couldn't help but take a kind of quiet glee in watching CSU, beautifully prepared by coach Sonny Lubick, not only dismantle but demolish CU, horrendously prepared by coach Gary Barnett. Prior to this game, CSU had won once in the last 11 meetings.
Then the night went off the rails.
CSU students were going nuts in celebration at the north end of Mile High Stadium. They were edging down with the clear intention of running on to the field, celebrating some more, and tearing down the goal posts. Denver police arrived to stand along the perimeter of the field to thwart such intentions.
Booing erupted and the students started throwing anything they could get their hands on, including all manner of bottles, plastic, and glass. They screamed obscene insults. They made obscene gestures. The police took it stoically.
Then a few students started to climb over railings anyway. That's when the cops turned tear gas on the students. Chaos ensued. Some of the students, unfamiliar with tear gas, thought they were dying. That's silly. It's just when you get a good whiff of the stuff, it can make you want to die.
Meanwhile, CU players, in foul moods anyway, had to pass through a tunnel to their locker room under the CSU mob and were pelted with debris. It was a nasty, nasty scene.
It gets worse if you hold to the antiquated notion that college football simply should be one of the many parts of higher education.
The solutions lie in three areas: *University administrators at both schools are at fault. They should never have allowed the college game to be played off campus in a bigger stadium in a big city. The reason was greed. That's not good enough. Both schools have adequate stadiums, financed in part by taxpayers. College games belong in college stadiums on college campuses.
*University administrators also are at fault for not prohibiting the sale of beer at a college game. It's indefensible. There's no justification for helping youngsters get drunk so they can behave outrageously. The reason is greed. Beer sales are huge profit centers. That's not good enough.
*Play the games at approximately 1:30 p.m. The later it gets in the day, the worse the behavior becomes. If that doesn't work for television, then the game shouldn't be on television, regardless of how much money schools can make. The reason for games at odd hours (this one started at 5 p.m.) is greed. That's not good enough.
And here are two areas in which the solutions don't lie:
The students. They're kids, in many cases out from under even a modicum of parental supervision for the first time. They feel they can do whatever they want. Rules are for others. They get in a chemically altered crowd and the anonymity is the perfect cover for anything. Just as prison reform should never start with the prisoners, educational reform cannot start with the students. Trying to reason with them is like a conversation with a box of rocks.
The cops. There's no hope because of their antipathy for behavior-challenged students. In this case, they were under requests from Mile High's chief tenants, the Denver Broncos, not to let the field be torn up or the goal posts torn down, on the eve of the NFL season. That's reasonable.
In a perfect world, the cops' presence would be enough. But that's 1950s thinking. No more. They tried to talk students back into the stands, to no avail.
That said, cops in riot gear incite students. Any cops incite students. OK, anybody trying to tell students anything today incites students.
Given increasing ramifications of this ilk, is college football deserving any more of a place at higher education's table?
*E-mail Doug Looney at firstname.lastname@example.org
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society