Fans criticize tailgating regulations in e-mails to UI officials

BY SAM LANE | SEPTEMBER 23, 2010 7:20 AM

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University of Iowa officials received dozens of e-mails from disgruntled fans about new tailgating regulations after the first Hawkeye football game, with the vast majority from angry alumni complaining about a changed and seemingly unwelcoming game-day experience.

The set of more than 50 e-mails sent to President Sally Mason and other officials — along with a letter that Charles Green, the assistant vice president for the UI police sent to disgruntled fans — was obtained in response to an open-records request. All of the senders' names were redacted.

"Given that more than 70,000 Hawkeye fans attend football games, this is a relatively small amount of feedback," UI spokesman Tom Moore said.

While a few e-mails contained positive feedback, most complained about issues ranging from enhanced gate security to limits on tailgating hours and the university encouraging a "police state" in regard to this year's "Think Before You Drink" campaign designed to increase tailgating safety.

"If we continue to experience the ugliness we did on Saturday, then we'll be forced to make a decision," wrote a Kansas donor who reportedly spends $1,500 on each trip to Iowa City for home football games.

With the initiative, police enforced open container and overconsumption laws more heavily and required tailgaters to cease alcohol consumption one hour after the game and leave university property in the next hour. On the first game day of the season, police doled out 146 citations, up from 46 citations last year.

In an e-mail to Athletics Director Gary Barta, one fan — who said he/she would no longer donate annually to the UI Foundation following first-game experience — said her/his father received an open-container citation while tailgating.

"You do not own the game-day experience," the fan wrote. "The fans will strike back if these ridiculous inconsistent 'crackdowns' continue."

In response to the e-mail, one of the few direct replies officials sent, Barta apologized for the fan's experience and offered a choice of two free tickets to a football game or tickets to a men's basketball game as an "olive branch."

According to the string of e-mails, Barta later sent a message to Mason saying this was the only fan to receive such an offer.

"My gut tells me it will be appreciated and well-received — we'll see," Barta said in the e-mail.

Chicago resident Dan Meracle, whose two children graduated from the UI, told the DI the police's "Gestapo tactics" for tailgating regulations are a "bit of an overkill." Though the 52-year-old said he wouldn't pull his donations because of the policies, he said he "could see where some people would do that," noting this could be particularly true for future alumni.

Green addressed concerns from fans in a lengthy response. He apologized to fans who did not have an enjoyable experience and explained police actions in detail, assuring they are using no more police officers than they have in the past, all of whom are trained through the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy on how to deal with the public.

"I do believe describing the entire environment and the overall actions of all the police officers working any given game for any given year as a 'police state' is an exaggeration," he said in the letter.

While most of the e-mails came from disgruntled fans, a few applauded the changes.

"The alcohol situation at U of I has gotten out of hand in the recent years, and the reputation of it being a party school is very disheartening," said a 1958 UI graduate from Burlington. "If these new rules cause the university to lose a few students that want to come to party, then so be it."

Still, following the feedback from fans, officials decided to revise the tailgating policies by increasing the number of gate personnel to speed up entrance and extending the deadline for fans to leave UI property to three hours after the game for 11 a.m. kickoffs. But the number of citations at the second home game seemed steady, with UI police issuing 139 citations.

Green said Wednesday that officials have not had any further discussions about reviewing or eliminating any regulations.

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