Let me begin by saying I am not a member of the Locos leadership. I am in the band, but do not hold a leadership role. I don’t cheer on my Gauchos to have something to put on a résumé, make friends, or give me an excuse to drink. I cheer on the Gauchos because I love them. I enjoy games, and whether we win or lose, I make a point of getting to the next one. I witnessed our drubbing by Wake Forest last weekend. I could handle that. What I could not comprehend was the announcement before the game threatening to eject any fan that threw a tortilla.
I understand the reasoning behind the prohibition on tortillas at basketball games. The NCAA basketball rulebook explicitly prohibits (in rule 10, sec. 5, art. 2) “purposely throwing debris onto the playing court.” We throw tortillas, UCSB gets a technical foul, and the opponent gets two free throws. That’s bad.
Soccer, however, is not basketball. There is no explicit prohibition on throwing things onto the playing surface. The prohibition on noisemakers while play progresses is present, (Rule 5.5.8) so I can understand taking away the conch shell from the exuberant fan at the Evansville game (join the band, you can play). The only rule that could possibly be in effect concerning tortillas is 5.5.1, which provides for suspending the game for, among other things, fan interference.
Rule 5.5.1, however, is a judgment call by the referee, and is open to interpretation. Might I add that there are no consequences for breaking this rule beyond pausing the game? There is nothing to lose. If the referee has not asked for the tortillas to stop flying, there is no reason to halt their flight.
Tortillas do not pose a risk of injury to players or fans. We are not throwing coins at an opposing player as he lines up for a corner kick. Occasionally, an empty soda bottle flies, and the person who throws it should be asked to leave because, if stepped upon, it can twist an ankle. We do not throw tortillas at opposing players. They fly following a Gaucho goal, and do not impede the progress of the game. Players do not slip on tortillas, cleats cut through them. I challenge anyone to hurt me with an unmodified tortilla thrown from 10 feet away. It cannot be done. There is no risk of injury.
Tortilla throwing is an expression of support unique to Santa Barbara. Many tortillas have messages of encouragement written on them. Gaucho goal celebrations often see an athlete picking a tortilla from the field and eating or kissing it. The athletic department highlights a tortilla rain in their pre-season promotional video (see the athletics Web site.) Why, then, the sudden decision to ban tortillas?
The fans and the Athletics Department have the same mission: that of supporting Gaucho athletes. It is troubling to me that the athletics department does not do the little things that would help us support athletics better. Anyone who has watched basketball in the Thunderdome recently knows that sitting in the front row is forbidden. Why? In the glory days of UCSB basketball, students stood three deep in front of the stands, and there was no pressbox between the student section and the court. This created an atmosphere that the athletic department brags about, with a quote by Barry Tompkins of ESPN likening the volume in the Thunderdome, to “an airplane firing its engines for takeoff.” It costs nothing to remove the tape and allow students in the front row. The home-field advantage could be that little bit greater, but it isn’t.
Now the Athletic Dept. is trying to restrain the atmosphere of Harder Stadium. I sincerely hope that Mark Massari, the incoming Athletic Director, gives whoever decided to enact this inane ban a lecture before reversing the decision. I hope he directs that students be allowed to sit in the front row of the Thunderdome again. I hope he encourages us to support our Gaucho athletes to the fullest extent. I hope he lets us fling tortillas again. The eyes of the Locos are upon you, Mr. Massari. Allow us as students to do our duty for our school. ¡Olé!