Student spirit challenged by lack of ‘O-Zone’ seats

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One of the many songs on the warm-up playlist blasting inside the Frank Erwin Center before basketball games is J. Cole’s “Higher,” in which he croons, “Come here, I’m about to take you higher.”

Ironic, considering the large number of students — the ones who were lucky enough to get past the entrances — that had to ascend higher and higher up in the mezzanine for a chance to see the Longhorns in person Saturday.

There weren’t too many problems with the 71-58 win over Missouri. Free-throw shooting, sure, but that’s another story. But what did stand out considerably from my birds-eye view of the arena was this: Our student section needs some work.

Clearly, the area granted to the O-Zone is much smaller compared to the rest of the floor and arena seating, which is given to season-ticket holders. Two slim strips of student areas running behind each baseline give the students a whopping four of the 29 arena sections to call their own. Four.

This is the reason that the aura of the Erwin Center won’t ever strike fear in the hearts of opponents like Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium or Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse do. In those and most other arenas around the country, student seating takes up a much larger part of the floor seating, and not just behind the backboard. Rather, behind both benches, all along the sidelines and behind the baselines. This kind of layout creates a more raucous crowd, a wave of heckling students all around the court. The Drum? Well, the crowd of students behind the backboard does its part to distract opposing free-throw shooters, but alumni prefer to sit in mostly silence during the game, usually only rising to their feet in
dire situations.

Now, because of Texas’ success this year, the small area of student seating becomes a problem. Students want to see their team in person. But because so many of them come, mass amounts are either turned away despite early arrival (see Texas A&M game mob scene) or just relocated up to the nosebleeds when there is no room left on the floor for them. How much of an impact will even the loudest fans have from up in the mezzanine? Not too much, considering while we stand, chant and holler, the season-ticket holders directly below favor sitting and chitchatting.

I understand that the price is high for a prime spot in the stands and that the season-ticket holders dish out considerable dough for the right to be close to the action. But we’re paying also in steep tuition bills, as well as the price for an LASP season pass. It’s only $80, but if I’m going to pay, I expect to get in.

The fact that the LASP tickets are accepted (and then turned down) on a first-come, first-served basis at the door rather than in an online raffle with only a certain amount available continues to befuddle me because I think all crowd-control problems could be solved with that simple adjustment. Yet students continue to print out their tickets days in advance and arrive an hour before doors open, but these preparations hardly guarantee good seats — or even admission.

I can’t remember a more fun Texas team to watch. High-flying and energetic, it’s no wonder so many students are willing to arrive early to see them play. I just wish that they didn’t have to sit so high up to do so when the place is at full capacity. And I’d like to think that the Erwin Center, and its 16,000 seats, would be big enough to accommodate that request.