Another football season is upon us and the Wisconsin Badgers will open this week in a stadium that sports hand rails for the fans in the seats.
There are hand rails down the middle of the aisles because the game is on the road, not at the UW's home stadium, Camp Randall. Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., the home of the Badger's Friday night opponent, the University of South Florida, has hand rails for the safety and convenience of the fans who have to climb steep stairs to access their seats.
For awhile earlier this year, it appeared that the UW Athletic Department was actually going to yield to the hundreds of complaints and pleas, mostly from older longtime season ticket holders, to install railings before even more people get hurt falling.
Instead, the powers-that-be opted to experiment with hand rails. It's not as if there aren't other football stadiums with rails. Even Northwestern's ancient Ryan Field has them, nevertheless the UW isn't sure what works for others will work at Camp Randall.
So, except for the folks who go up and down the aisles between Section B and C and in the upper deck between BB and CC, it will be another season of testing the fans' agility.
According to associate athletic director Jason King, the UW police and the Madison Fire Department will monitor those two aisles to see if the railings cause any disruption of movement through the aisles or interferes with the sight lines of some fans in the stands. He explained they want to make sure all is OK before spending $300-$400,000 on equipping the entire stadium.
I frankly don't buy that. It's not as if there aren't hundreds of examples around the country that could be studied to make sure it's done right.
The State Journal's Tom Oates, in a column earlier this month, outlined some of the problems that football programs are having to keep seats filled at their games, especially those that demand big seat license fees, extra donations for parking, uncomfortable seats. His point was that universities are finding that if they're going to keep fans in the seats they're going to have to schedule more quality opponents and add other amenities like huge video boards that show replays to entertain the fans. He pointed out that Wisconsin scheduling Alabama is a good start.
But, as I've gotten older I've come to realize that attending football games is really for the young, and athletic department policies make that even more so. Too many longtime fans have discovered that with today's TV coverage on ever-growing big screens, the convenience of bathrooms in the house and cold beer in the fridge can seem very inviting, if not as exciting.
And when you add escalating ticket prices and athletic fund contributions, and ignore the long-time loyal fan because someone younger and more wealthy will gladly pay more, it accelerates the motive to forget it.
To be fair, the UW Athletic Department is among the country's best, and it has made significant strides for its football fans. And, while the cost of tickets and mandatory contributions accelerates, it still is a bargain compared to other big-time football schools.
But, dragging its feet on helping provide some safety for its older, longtime fans who have willingly opened their checkbooks through many years of ups and downs isn't a good idea.