Smart-Orr incident could have implications for fans as well

By Spencer Brown

Every sports fan in America has heard about the Marcus Smart incident by now.

In case you missed it, Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart, widely considered the best player in college basketball in the preseason, shoved a Texas Tech fan in the waning moments of a 65-61 road loss Saturday.

It was the fourth loss in a row for the team, and frustration boiled over when Smart went into the stands. 

The guy on the receiving end of the shove was Texas Tech fan Jeff Orr. Since the incident, multiple YouTube videos and former players’ accounts of Orr’s raucous activity have surfaced.

Should Smart have gone into the stands? The general consensus is he shouldn’t have. What exactly was said? Orr claims he called Smart “a piece of crap.” That’s very debatable. Did the punishment fit the crime? Three games seem reasonable. 

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The most important question is what do we do now?

By we, I am referring to university officials regulating fan-player interaction. Etiquette may be a better word. 

It is impossible to impose a no-profanity environment and actually regulate it during the game. There just aren’t enough personnel to play watchdog. However, a better game environment can be promoted. Probably some clips during time-outs or a video pregame. A new culture needs to be established.

When this story first broke, some analysts summoned the ghosts of the Malice at the Palace, a brawl between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons in 2004. 

Those are two completely different situations as far as the actions that led up to that incident (a combination of projectiles and Ron Artest) and, of course, the subsequent brawl.

What cannot be ignored is the proximity of the fans and the court. In this regard, it becomes a money issue.

College basketball and professional basketball differ in the manner of how they generate their revenue.

The NBA has season ticket holders, but outside of the Spike Lees and Jack Nicholsons of the world, you don’t find too many demonstrative fans at or near court level.

There was that one incident with the Chicago Bulls’ Joakim Noah and Miami Heat fan Filomena Tobias. Tobias pointed a not so flattering hand gesture in Noah’s field of vision. That blew over quickly as Tobias had more pressing personal issues to deal with (the accusations tossed her way of murdering her ex-husband).

A lot of revenue is based on jersey sales, concession sales (this includes beer) and selling out the arena. The reality is though ticket sales are important, NBA teams will not suffer a huge loss if they were to throw out or even ban certain fans for rowdy behavior.

College basketball is a bit different in this instance, especially in the case of Jeff Orr. 

The lifelong fans at some of these universities that have seats at or near court level are likely graduates of the university. They are also likely huge contributors or boosters for the university as well. Universities rely a lot on these funds to boast their athletic programs. It hasn’t been revealed whether Orr is a booster, but from all reports it appears he has a lot of respect with the higher-ups in the Texas Tech program. 

This presents an interesting dilemma.

An unspoken but apparently understood truth is that universities are very partial to these boosters so as not to upset them. It becomes a very fine line to walk when you have publicity of the kind Texas Tech is receiving and people are calling for, at the very least, Orr’s seats to be relocated. Operating under the assumption that Orr may be a booster or even have a close relationship with boosters, this could upset an entire contingent of contributors.

It’s no secret that fans have tormented players for years and at very close range. A lot of times, you’ll see it coming from the student section. Duke’s Cameron Crazies are probably the best at it and the way Cameron Indoor Stadium is constructed, they are dangerously closer to the players than most any other team. 

The difference is though some of those chants may come off as offensive, they are rehearsed and opposing teams and coaches have prepared their programs to be ready for the student sections. Some even embrace it. 

There was no preparing for the Smart-Orr confrontation because it was unprecedented.

Texas Tech may consider moving a student section where Orr was located and moving him to an area where his yelling and visibility will be drowned out with the rest of the arena. Or they may want to keep him there.

Is it fair to move him if he paid for those seats specifically? Is it fair to keep him there if he does direct racial slurs toward opposing players? 

It depends on how you view the situation.

There is a belief that student sections provide a competitive advantage for the home team. Orr seems to have commanded an entire section of the arena all on his own. This is probably why his previous exploits have gone under the radar until now. 

There are more Jeff Orrs in college basketball. He’s just the first to garner national media attention.

One thing’s for sure: Texas Tech’s decision will have a ripple effect on the landscape of college basketball.

Spencer is a senior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected].