Bonner's proposals a major step forwardBy Tray Smith | 04/17/2013 11:00pm
Freshmen students could be moved to the upper-deck next year and block seating attendance could be monitored quarterly with photographs, according to comments from UA President Judy Bonner reported in Tuesday’s issue of The Crimson White. Implementing those simple recommendations could have a transformative impact on the student football game experience.
Moving freshmen to the upper-deck makes sense. The University has had trouble filling the student section in the upper-deck before, so dedicating it to freshmen would allow us to utilize existing space much more efficiently. On the other hand, freshmen still get to enjoy their first football season as UA students in Bryant-Denny Stadium, and may even get the opportunity to attend more games.
Utilizing space in the upper-deck for freshmen leaves more room in the lower bowl for everyone else, making it much more likely that upperclassmen will pack the remaining seats. It could also reduce wait times outside the gate and make it less likely for upperclassmen to be redirected to the upper-deck.
Once freshmen are moved to the upper-deck, addressing the second issue, block seating, becomes much easier. If freshmen are no longer sitting with their student organizations, then the number of seats devoted to block seating could be reduced or the number of student organizations accommodated by block seating could be increased.
Monitoring attendance in block seating will also hold organizations with reserved blocks accountable for the way they are using their privileges.
Reducing the number of unused seats in the student section would not be as imperative if our football team was not heading into next season as an early favorite after winning two consecutive national championships. Now, we have students with seating privileges they aren’t taking advantage of, and even more students who want to take advantage of those privileges but can’t. We need to correct the imbalance.
Nick Saban has brought us a new era of Alabama football, and it is time for new student seating policies that acknowledge the realities of our growing student body, take advantage of our renewed success on the field, and make efficient use of the stadium expansion, which is only two seasons old. President Bonner’s suggestions are a huge step in the right direction.
Personally, I would prefer for block seating to be eliminated entirely. There really isn’t any fair way to reserve seats for certain groups, and even if there was, the Student Government Association would be incapable of implementing it.
For the past three years, I have sat in block seating during every game I attended, because that is where my friends sit. I never understood what I did to deserve those privileges, though, or why other students had to stand outside of the gate for hours to get a good seat while I could breeze in 45 minutes before kick-off.
All students pay the same amount for tickets, and ideally we should all be treated the same way inside the stadium. Game Days are our best opportunity to unite as a student body, yet we stubbornly insist on erecting our divisions in Bryant-Denny. Block seating is allocated by the SGA, so it is not surprising that the blocks are largely filled with white male greeks. It is 21st century segregation, but we seem to have convinced ourselves it’s okay, or at least tolerable.
While the SGA has made progress improving the block seating system in recent years, especially under presidents James Fowler and Matt Calderone, the large degree of autonomy the student government has been given to oversee the blocks leaves future administrations relatively free to abandon recent reforms. Our football team is simply too good for us to allow parts of the stadium to again be sectioned off by secretive students pretending to be connected to Skull and Bones. The system must continue to become more open and equitable.
An issue as simple as block seating really should not be that difficult to solve, but it is hard to take entitlements away from groups that have come to expect them. Like angry seniors scared someone may take their Medicare scooter away, students who have come to expect block seating are wary of any policy changes.
If we can’t yet get rid of it, though, at least we can make sure the people who have come to expect reserved seats are using them.
The fact that the UA president is talking about the issue in public is in itself a huge sign of progress. Block seating, and student football seating in general, is an issue that has merited the administration’s attention for years, but only a few administrators have actually tried to address it. That Dr. Bonner is now answering questions about student seating in front of student groups suggest a much greater willingness to tackle these problems and create a much better Gameday experience.
Tray Smith is a senior majoring in political science and journalism. His column runs weekly on Thursdays.