by Charles Guthrie and Paul Szaniawski
A sports fan couldn’t ask for anything better than this. Rider enters tonight’s game in a four-way tie for first place with this weekend’s games determining where they will stand in the upcoming MAAC Tournament.
The Broncs will take on St. Peter’s (3-13, 6-21 overall) tonight. If victorious, they will look to avenge last week’s loss to Fairfield when they take on the Stags on Sunday.
The importance of the pivotal games is matched by national and local media attention and fan attendance around the buzzing Broncs this season after a 10-game winning streak, Jason Thompson’s NBA bid and the team’s exciting play. The media rush has brought in throngs of off-campus fans who are filling Alumni Gym, including scalpers, and according to Athletic Director Don Harnum, anywhere from five to 16 NBA scouts at every game.
“The games are sold out the week before and former NBA players such as Hall of Famer Joe Dumars, Vinny Del Negro and Jay Williams have been in the stands,” Thompson said.
The Athletics Department has tried to warn fans about dwindling tickets supplies.
“As of now, 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, we have 100 general admission tickets left for both games and those will be gone,” Associate Athletic Director Karin Torchia said yesterday.
The games against division rivals Niagara on Feb. 8 and Siena on Feb. 10 saw tickets go quicker than ever before. Students who have been used to arriving at the game and buying tickets at the door were turned away because increased advanced sales to off-campus fans after the hype and media publicity around the success of the men’s team.
“I’ve been here for almost eight years and we’ve never had advanced sellouts that we had to put signs on the ticket windows and the doors before the game that we had no more tickets,” Torchia said.
She added that the Athletic Department tries to pack the Broncs’ Zoo with cranberry-shirt wearing students because of their energy and doesn’t like turning fans away. So when the Niagara and Siena games sold out quicker than usual, 50 standing-room tickets were sold to students to compensate. A total of 1,700 tickets were sold for each game.
“Our seating is really for 1,650,” Torchia said. “We won’t be doing that for these upcoming games. We realized it was pushing it a little too close to maximum capacity. We want to avoid any dangerous situations. It got a little crazy and we have to be afraid of fire codes and violations.”
Lawrence Township Fire Marshal Dale Robbins said the gym’s maximum capacity is 1,860. Even adding in players, coaches, referees, the dance team, the media and the athletic staff, the fire marshal said the gym still doesn’t reach 1,800.
One of the 1,700 spectators at the Niagara game, Dr. Aaron Moore, a contributor to YesNetwork.com and Basketball Times as well as a communication professor, feels the crowd may have become too much for the Broncs’ Zoo.
“The problem with the Niagara game was that the kids were way too close to the officials.” Moore said. “You can’t have that. If the crowds are going to be so compacted, they may have to look into getting on-site security.”
There are some limitations of a 50-year-old building with such a unique layout that is unlike other Division I basketball facilities, according to Harnum.
“It’s very hard to keep fans off the floor and it’s difficult to control the flow of people going to bathrooms and concessions,” he added. “With some of the limitations in the gym it causes a little bit of stress or dilemma, but the fact that people want them so bad outweighs all the negatives.”
Harnum sees the positive side of crowded games.
“They’re certainly problems, but I would rather have those problems than the ‘Oh my gosh, it’s a TV game, how do we fill it,’” he said. “I’d rather have the issues of flow and crowd control.”
Doubleheader games are another challenge, Harnum said. As women’s fans leave the first game, they walk into a