By Rob Bradfield
Baylor Basketball fans might be in for a big change next season.
At their meeting last Thursday the Baylor Student Senate approved a group of bills recommending significant changes to several Baylor institutions.
The Senate overturned student body president Zach Rogers’ veto on a bill to add a Homecoming King to next year’s celebrations and passed two bills recommending moving the student section at basketball games to behind the goals and disbanding the Baylor Bear Pit.
The Bear Pit bill, written by Sophomore Senators Grant Senter from San Antonio and Kirby Garrett from Bend, Ore., recommends the administration make the Bear Pit a free organization with no dress code and make their courtside seats open to all students on a first come first serve basis. This would effectively disband the organization, which currently requires an entry fee, a dress code and gets courtside seating.
“For too long we have been bullied and intimidated by [the Bear Pit],” Senter said during the Senate debate.
The Bear Pit began in 2005 to support the men’s basketball team. At the time, interest in basketball was low due to NCAA sanctions from the Patrick Dennehy murder scandal which prohibited Baylor from playing in non-conference games that year.
Since then the Bear Pit has grown to nearly 800 members, who wear their black and yellow striped jerseys to every men’s basketball game. Members are required to purchase the jersey, pay an initial $20 fee and wear the jersey at every game. In return the members receive free pizza and drinks at every game and get the courtside seating behind each goal.
Katy senior and Bear Pit’s president Benjamin Friedman said the member’s seats are well earned.
“The most consistent supporters are the ones in the Bear Pit,” Friedman said.
Friedman and the Bear Pit’s public relations officer, Gilmer junior Josh DeMoss say the Bear Pit’s activities go past fanatical cheering at games. Friedman and DeMoss said the Bear Pit and its leadership play an important role in organizing cheers and keeping the fans in line by discouraging things like throwing trash and booing Baylor players.
“We’re trying to represent the university as best as possible,” Friedman said.
Senter sees it differently.
He says the organization doesn’t live up to its purpose by not filling all of the allotted seats, and by acting in ways that don’t portray Baylor fans in a positive light.
“When the Bear Pit is in such a position of power that it’s been in the national spotlight and the national perception it’s damaging to the university,” Senter said
The Bear Pit does, however, enjoy the support of the Baylor basketball community. Friedman said he and the Bear Pit work with men’s basketball head coach Scott Drew to help support the Baylor players, and they’ve gotten positive feedback at games from other fans. DeMoss added that the Bear Pit’s spirit isn’t seen in other areas of the student section.
“We’re not going to sit at the top of the stands and not be engaged,” DeMoss said.
Both Friedman and DeMoss expressed concern that without the Bear Pit, the student section will lack direction and passion.
Senter said the legislation won’t disband the Bear Pit or suddenly decrease school spirit, but change the way being a hardcore Baylor fan works.
Senter and Bennett believe once the Bear Pit is disbanded the student fans as a whole will fill the gap. “My goal in all of this was to unify the Bear Pit, to make the student body the Bear Pit,” Senter said.
The Bear Pit officers agree with Senter’s views in that regard, and believe the Bear Pit is already leading the way in increasing student involvement and passion at basketball games.
Senter, Friedman and DeMoss have all expressed their willingness to sit down and address the issues.
The Bear Pit officers said they are even willing to negotiate on some issues such as the mandatory jerseys and that their main complaint is they weren’t notified of the legislation, given an opportunity to defend themselves on the Senate floor, or consulted in the bill’s writing.
Senter admits he should have made more of an effort to involve them in the process. “That was inappropriate of us, me and [Senator Garrett], we really regret that,” Senter said.
The bill has a long way to go before the university disbands the Bear Pit. It passed with 23 votes in favor, five votes against and five abstentions, but has to be approved by Rogers.
If he decides to veto the bill, student Senate will have to call a special session before Thursday’s elections in order to overturn it. After that the university will have to decide whether or not to implement the recommendation.
Both sides eventually want a future in which the Bear Pit is no longer necessary. For Senter that means a future in which fans aren’t segregated based on what they wear, and for Friedman and DeMoss it means a future where Baylor fans all embody the same level of passion that the Bear Pit does. “If people get rid of the Bear Pit, I hope they get rid of it because it becomes too big to manage,” Friedman said.