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Published: Tuesday, 10/12/2004

Security rules leave questions

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Bowling Green football coach Gregg Brandon certainly would like to forget his team's 33-10 loss at Miami last November. But one thing he still recalls is the raucous crowd that witnessed the contest.

"I remember a whiskey bottle flying over my head about halfway through the third quarter," Brandon said. "I tried to grab it and take a shot. I had seen enough of Ben [Roethlisberger, Miami's quarterback]. I needed a drink."

Brandon can make light of that situation now. But MAC commissioner Rick Chryst said the league takes the concept of stadium security for league games very seriously.

The impetus for this movement, according to Chryst, came in 2002. That's the season Miami and Marshall received national publicity for a post-game fracas between fans and teams that led to one RedHawks coach being led off the field in handcuffs.

"There were several highly visible incidents nationally, and one was at one of our games," Chryst said. "Soon after there was a national summit in Dallas that addressed it with students, campus security and university presidents - not just athletic folk. It became a stronger point of emphasis to us."

The result has been a league-wide policy that has caused confusion and misunderstandings between schools. Several coaches, for example, said their understanding of the rule was that students and bands are prohibited from sitting behind a visiting team's bench.

Chryst said that is not the case.

"The policy is that the visiting team must have a safe and secure bench area," he said. "How that gets executed varies from campus to campus. The biggest thing to me is, are [MAC schools] responding when they meet a situation? And how prepared are people to respond if there's a situation?"

Since 2002, several schools have made changes to their seating to better comply with this policy. For example, this season Central Michigan switched sidelines and moved its student section behind the south end zone of Kelly/Shorts Stadium. The band also moved away from midfield, closer to the end zone.

But at Northern Illinois the students remain behind the visiting bench. For the Huskies' home game against Bowling Green Sept 24, many of those students were handed ThunderStix to make additional noise. At Toledo and BG, there is general seating behind the vistors' benches.

Chryst made it a point to stand behind the Bowling Green bench for the NIU game, giving him a chance to experience what BG was experiencing. He was satisfied that the measures NIU officials took, combined with the distance between the teams and the stands - they are roughly 10 feet off the ground - made for a safe environment.

"I think everyone is in line with the current policy," Chryst said.

Not every MAC coach agrees.

"I think there are still some teams that haven't followed [the rule] or don't understand it," said Toledo coach Tom Amstutz. "I don't think it has been consistent [in enforcement] yet."

Western Michigan coach Gary Darnell, in his eighth season in the MAC, has noticed that some road trips have become tougher in recent seasons.

"My first couple of years here, Bowling Green was a nice place to play," he said. "Northern Illinois was a nice place to play too. They're not nice places to play now.

"But that's how it is on the road: You don't have your band or your cheerleaders; it's just you and your 60 guys against the other team's whole program."

Miami coach Terry Hoeppner is quick to point out that loud, hostile crowds on the road are normal for many leagues.

"If you go to places like Iowa, and you go to places like Michigan, the fans are going to be a factor," Hoeppner said. "We envy places like LSU, where we went a few years ago. The difference in our programs [compared] to those programs is more off-the-field. It's going to be a good test for our fans and our support in going to Detroit for the MAC Championship."

Marshall coach Bob Pruett said it may be harder to battle the alternative to a rowdy road crowd.

"Sometimes it's harder for us as coaches to get our team ready to play if it isn't a hostile crowd," he said. "The more populated the stands, the better we seem to play."

JACOBS HONORED: Bowling Green quarterback Omar Jacobs was named the MAC West Division offensive player of the week for his efforts at Central Michigan Saturday.

Jacobs finished with 462 yards of total offense in the Falcons' 38-14 win over the Chippewas. He completed 31 of 42 passes for 387 yards and four touchdowns, and added a team-high 75 rushing yards.

Eastern Michigan safety Jerry Gaines was named the West's top defensive player, and Northern Illinois kicker Chris Nendick earned the special-teams award. The East Division winners were Miami's Michael Larkin on offense and Marshall's Jonathan Goddard on defense and Ian O'Connor on special teams.

CLOSE, BUT NO CIGAR: Northern Illinois nearly got ambushed before pulling out a 30-28 victory at Central Florida.

The Huskies led 21-0 at the half and by 13 points in the final period before the Knights mounted a rally. UCF scored a pair of TDs, including the go-ahead score with 45 seconds left before Nendick booted a game-winning, 39-yard field goal on the game's final play.

"I've been around this game a long time, and I've seen championship teams," said Northern Illinois coach Joe Novak. "And I think every one seemed to have a game like this along the way that somehow they pull out that maybe they shouldn't."

FLASH POINT: Marshall will be favored to win Saturday at Kent State, but Pruett knows how well Golden Flash quarterback Joshua Cribbs plays against the Thundering Herd.

As a freshman in 2001 Cribbs ran for 159 yards and threw for 182 against Marshall, then added 199 rushing yards and 142 passing the next season.

While Cribbs ran for just 30 yards at Marshall last year, he threw for 319. He threw for a touchdown, ran for a score and even caught a TD pass. Marshall won all three games.

Contact John Wagner at:

jwagner@theblade.com

or 419-724-6481.



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