Saturday, February 24, 2018

So Who’s to Blame at N.C. State Basketball Game? 1947

“Impossible Situation” from the editorial page of The Technician, the student newspaper at North Carolina State College, February 28, 1947. Jack Fisler was editor of the newspaper.

“They stoned the fire chief’s car!” “They broke in the doors!” “They refused to move when asked to!” “They turned in false alarms!” “The students acted like a bunch of cattle!”

Now just wait a minute with those statements. You’re referring to the students unjustly and inaccurately. Before we say who is to blame, let’s analyze the incident.

The Technician states emphatically that the students of State College are not to blame. We further state that the Raleigh fire chief can not be blamed for calling the game off—he was carrying out a North Carolina law. Since the previous games provided no major disturbances, the athletic office can not be accused of lack of foresightedness. Then who is to bear the burden of the blame? After discussing the incident with the Raleigh fire chief, the head of the Athletic Council, the Director of Intercollegiate Athletics, the Chancellor, the gate-keepers, the coaches, and many students, we conclude that it was an impossible situation. The blame must be borne by many.

Here are the facts as we have them: Since most of the student wrath was directed at the Raleigh fire chief, we shall take up his side first. There is no doubt that he made a wise decision in calling the game off. The North Carolina law states that at any public gathering all attending must be seated in regulation seats.

Since the gym was already dangerously overcrowded, and since the mob outside and in the basement could not be controlled, there was no chance of enforcing the regulations of the law. Chief Butts had no alternative, unless the spectators would leave the gym. The determined and suspicious spectators naturally would not leave.

The recent accident at a Purdue basketball game, coupled with the Winecoff holocaust, Coconut Grove, Hotel La Salle, and many other tragedies prompted the fire department to take steps to assure that a similar incident would not occur here. Hence the orders for the Carolina game were given.
When asked why the games in the past were not cancelled for overcrowding, the chief replied that he did not know of the situation until after the NYU game. After that game he gave orders that the crowd would have to be restricted in the future. Some 100 students were turned away from the Duke game, and again the fire department notified the gym officials that only about 3,200 (the seating capacity) could be admitted to the Carolina game. Butts also stated that it was not his fault that the student body did not understand the situation.

The Athletic office has attempted to get as many students in as possible to every game, regardless of the fact that there is not a seat for everyone. Even with students giving their books to outsiders, and with the 50 complimentary passes given out by the local office to both teams and some friends, the seating arrangements had been passable. It looked as though the rather hap-hazard ticket system would work, so there was no effort to devise a fool-proof system. Possibly the Athletic Council should be blamed for not going ahead and setting up a concrete mechanism whereby there could be no overcrowding. Such a system would have restricted student attendance so much that it is doubtful whether the student body would have tolerated it.

The “straw that broke the camel’s back” was the large number of Carolina students, Raleigh school students, State College alumni, and Raleigh businessmen who crashed the gate by hook or crook (some even used a ladder to get in an upper window). Had it not been for them, the gym may have held the number of State students who wanted to see the game. As it was, the ticket books of those not attending were given to outsiders, causing the swell in attendance. The mob spirit prevailed all around the gym and it was impossible for the gatekeepers or the cops to keep control of the crowd without a fight which would have cause someone to get hurt.

The student body of the State College was forced by circumstances into a situation which they could not understand, and which was not within their power to cope. Weighing the circumstances logically, one must conclude that the students as a whole displayed reasonably good self-control. As is the case in every group, some let the emotional state surrounding the catastrophe run away with them. 

Throwing rocks at the fire chief’s car and turning in false fire alarms are inexcusable acts which we heartily condemn. We cannot believe that State College students could have been so unthinking as to turn in false fire alarms. It sounds like the work of school kids, but maybe we have that level of intelligence students in college here.

One definite conclusion of the abominable incident is that the coliseum must be completed at once. It is hoped that the many legislators who tried in vain to see the ball game last Tuesday night will return to the Capitol building with determination to approve the requested appropriations at an early date. Since there is no doubt that the money asked for will be approved, we feel that work should be started immediately on the coliseum so that there can be no duplication of the impossible situation of Tuesday night.

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