Utah State University Athletics Director Scott Barnes said an "overzealous usher" acted on his own Wednesday night when he told student fans that certain behavior was inappropriate, prompting a three-minute student fan silence at the beginning of the USU men's basketball game against the University of Denver.
The usher reportedly told students before the game that certain chants and "pointing" at opposing players was not allowed. Those instructions sparked the three-minute silence from entire student section at the Dee Glenn Smith Spectrum, students say. It was not, as has been reported, brought on by a letter of apology issued by Barnes and USU President Stan Albrecht to Brigham Young University on behalf of the school for "inappropriate" behavior by USU students during the Nov. 11 game in Logan.
Barnes says he has called a meeting for Tuesday that will include him, Albrecht, members of the student leadership and event staff to clear up issues that were "absolutely misinterpreted." He called the misunderstanding "our fault."
"There's a sense out there now that there are new policies in place; there are no new policies," Barnes said. "We will work to resolve any misunderstanding and to basically get on the same page. The goal is make sure the fans understand they're the best fan base in America; we want them to keep rockin' the house, but we want them to do it without crossing the line. I already talked with student leaders, and I have great confidence we will be in great shape coming out of Tuesday's meeting."
Barnes said that he has met with the usher and he would not be disciplined.
"I had a good, constructive conversation with him and we understand what we need to do differently, Barnes said. "He's done a great job over the years."
Ryan Baylis, USU's student government vice president over athletics, said it's important for Aggie fans and the university community to move forward with the events of Nov. 11 and Wednesday night.
"I came here because of Aggie basketball, and if that's gone then I'm glad I'm graduating this spring," Baylis said. "I think it's a big factor in getting students here and keeping students here so we want to keep that atmosphere."
Baylis said of the Tuesday meeting: "I think it will be business as usual by Tuesday night," which is when the next home game is scheduled.
The three minutes of silence came during the Aggies' first home game after the now-famous "apology letter" issued Nov. 22, which noted "inappropriate" behavior from USU fans directed toward several BYU players. BYU center Brandon Davies was a prime target, as he had just come back after a suspension during the 2010-11 year for violating BYU's honor code.
Originally, the students thought of the three minutes of silence as a running joke, but after at least one member of the event staff reportedly threatened to kick them out of the Spectrum and take away student IDs for cursing or pointing, they decided to do it.
"It wasn't really a protest. It wasn't us being crybabies or pouting; it was us getting the message across that you are censoring the craziest student section in the nation, and this is what will happen if you keep censoring us - just silence," said USU student Charley Riddle, who wrote on a whiteboard at the start of Wednesday's game "No cheering for first 3 mins" and held it up for the thousands of students to read.
USU basketball players felt the fans actions on Wednesday.
"Not having our fans here kind of hurt us," said USU guard Brockeith Pane, who finished with 12 points in the 67-54 loss. "I know it hurt me."
Utah State had its 33-game home win streak snapped Wednesday. However, the team was behind just 7-4 when the fans started cheering again at the 17-minute mark in the first half. The game was quickly tied at 8-8, and USU trailed from there on out.
The game was still marked with the usual Aggie spirit - for the most part.
The Aggies' mascot, Big Blue, made his typical dramatic appearance by being dropped down to the ground with a rope from the top of the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. The crowd of 10,056 was on their feet, cheering ferociously. Students sang the fight song and performed the usual chants prior to the game.
Fans did change up some chants during the game to make them more "polite." When Denver players shot free throws, they chanted, "Please don't make it," instead of the usual "You will miss it."
And at one point, when a referee was having a spat with a coach, the crowd chanted, "That's not decent," referencing language in the "apology letter" that called some student fans' actions "beyond ... human decency."
The actions at both the BYU and Denver games have sparked controversy in the university community. Some have criticized the letter, calling it a PR move and saying the administration was not doing enough to calm fans' behavior at USU sporting events prior to that game.
Riddle said he and others were disappointed by the tone of Albrecht and Barnes' letter, specifically one phrase inserted in it.
"Our behavior was beyond human decency? That's a little ridiculous," Riddle said.
Another fan shared that sentiment.
"I was outraged that an apology was issued to BYU," said Mitch Morgan, who sat in the front row of the student section Wednesday. "I have seen much worse on other campuses, and we should never apologize for what happens in the Spectrum."
Some people believe the behavior at the Nov. 11 game did not capture the Aggie spirit in its true form.
"I definitely think the Aggies could have had a little bit better sportsmanship," said student government President Erik Mikkelsen, who did not attend that game.
Baylis said the letter issued by Barnes and Albrecht was necessary.
"We did go over the line," Baylis said.
Mikkelsen acknowledged there's not a lot people can do to "police" fans in the Spectrum because "everyone comes in so quickly," but he said the HURD was responsible for stopping a lot of behavior that was taking place.
When asked if there was anything specific the USU administration or student leadership could do to stop this kind of aggressive behavior, Mikkelsen said, "We're coordinating with some key leaders in the student section ... to see if can start small and have that spread throughout the crowd."
Mikkelsen said those leaders and the HURD that have "a lot of sway on what the crowd does. A lot of what the crowd does is reaction to what key people do, instead of actions they come up with themselves."
Mikkelsen said those people could help mitigate poor behavior at all future games, not just those against BYU. He said the behavior at the BYU game represented an isolated incident with "individuals going off on their own" and not following anything the key leaders were doing.
"I'm definitely optimistic for the future and our future relationship with BYU," Mikkelsen said.