As the Feb. 24 start date of the 2007 men's lacrosse season rapidly approaches, administrators are now preparing for an atmosphere at games that could be vastly different than it was in past years.
Although it remains unclear as to the exact makeup and number of people that could fill Koskinen Stadium when Duke plays Dartmouth, the group will likely include many students and others seeking to support the team in its return to the field after the cancellation of the 2006 season.
In addition, officials are preparing for the increased media presence and the hypothetical event that protesters or other disruptive fans could make their presence known.
Attendance for last year's Feb. 18 season-opening home game against Butler was just 425, but officials have suggested that figure could be as much as 20 times higher this year.
"We're in a position of really not knowing what to expect at the first men's lacrosse game, whether it will be 10,000 people or 100," said Chris Kennedy, senior associate athletics director. "We're trying to think of all things that might take place and have a contingency plan in place."
Several key athletic and University officials met Tuesday to discuss issues related to security at men's lacrosse games this spring. The participants-including Kennedy, Director of Athletics Joe Alleva, Executive Vice President Tallman Trask, Associate Vice President of Campus Security Aaron Graves and Vice President of Campus Services Kemel Dawkins-declined to discuss the specifics of the security measures, but those reached for comment agreed on the need to take preventive steps this year.
"The most important thing to think about is always safety and security," Alleva said. "For our fans, for our players and for our coaches, we need to make sure we can provide a safe environment for everyone involved."
One proposal that had been suggested in the fall was charging admission to home games, something that traditionally Duke has only done for football games and men's and women's basketball games. Under the proposal, students would still have been admitted free of charge, but others would have had to pay, potentially discouraging disruptive fans.
In the end, however, Alleva decided against it.
"We have never charged for lacrosse games in the past, and after thinking about it, we didn't think it was proficuous to charge now," Alleva said. "Even though it isn't business as usual, we are trying to go about it as business as usual as much as possible."
Although he would not comment on the specifics of the game-day policies, Graves said there would be an increase in security at the first game.
"Anything would be an increase," Graves said, noting there was little to no security presence in years past. "Because of the things that have taken place over the past year, we may have a larger-than-usual crowd. There may be any number of things with the media present.... We want to be mindful of those things and available to assist to make it a successful event."
Graves said he and Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs, had preliminarily discussed the potential for student tailgating before the game. In an e-mail, Moneta wrote that "those discussions are just underway."
In past years, there has been some small pre- and post-game tailgating, but nothing to the extent that exists before Duke football games. Because he was not aware of any specific student plans to tailgate before the men's lacrosse opener, however, Graves said the administration has yet to formalize a policy.
"The potential for tailgating is there, but it is not something we have been apprised of from students," Graves said. "As far as the University's stance on tailgate, there is no 'Tailgate' per se anymore. That doesn't mean students won't show up and one does occur."
"Clearly with any crowd or gathering we'll be focusing on behavioral issues," he added. "We don't want to create concerns that are not there. We'll work with student groups or anyone that plans to do so."
Administrators will also be keeping an eye on the expected increase in media attention at men's lacrosse games this year. At the season-opening practice Jan. 26, about a dozen members of the print and broadcast media were in attendance.
Sports Information Director Art Chase said an average of about eight members of the media attended last year's games, with no credentials required.
This year, Duke will mandate that media requests go through Chase's office, and Chase estimated that between 20 and 30 writers, photographers and others would be at the Dartmouth game.
The only other times credentials have been required at Duke were for the 2002 ACC Championships and a home game in the 2005 NCAA tournament, Chase said.
The tilt against the Big Green will be televised by ESPNU, marking the third time in history a Duke regular-season men's lacrosse game will be nationally televised. ESPNU and CSTV will televise three and two games, respectively, during the regular season.
Given the media scrutiny that has been placed upon all aspects of the University, especially the lacrosse team, the Blue Devils said they are keeping a positive attitude toward the increased attention-both from the media and otherwise-that they will all but definitely receive at games this year.
"There's distractions, but we can't be bothered by distractions," senior captain Matt Danowski said. "Even on the practice field we have to keep our heads in it, focus on lacrosse and getting better every day. It's probably going to be good for us in the end-when we play in front of a big crowd, we won't be as distracted as if we were not used to it."
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