The Washington Times - January 28, 2009, 04:36PM

As you might or might not know, the three beat writers who travel home and away pretty much everywhere regardless of what time of year it is have a prime perch at midcourt at Comcast Center.

Consider it one of the few things you get for regular, day-to-day coverage of Maryland’s basketball team.

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It affords the opportunity to chat with an assortment of people in either short or extended conversations. It also creates the chance to hear some creative (and not-so-creative) things coming out of the student section.

There are some coarse things said over the two hours of a game, and there’s no question some of what is said (profane, clever or both) is quite hilarious. Many come from a crew of seniors who have occupied a place near midcourt for much of the last few seasons.

These are folks crazy enough not just to show up two hours before tip, but sit out in the cold waiting to get in for an hour or two just to make sure they secure some prime real estate. In short, they have fan credibility.

Sometimes, comments come from other areas of the student section that are, to say the least, puzzling.

The “should fans boo their own college team” argument has been rehashed over the last few weeks, and it is an interesting one. At a basic level, college players are being paid in the form of a scholarship, and students are paying for the right to attend basketball games in the form of a student activities fee.

(Hence, why there’s a case to be made for calling Maryland’s home court “Student Activities Fee Arena.” But I digress.)

Anyway, there’s an argument that simply booing a team in general for poor play is, while maybe not the best use of energy, certainly acceptable given the circumstances. Not saying most would agree with that interpretation, but it isn’t an impossible argument.

The students who sit behind me would no doubt disagree with that way of thinking, seeing as how their frustration usually takes the form of “play some defense,” or some other measure of constructive criticism.

As last night’s game wound down, there were some things said elsewhere in the student section that clearly aggravated this group. At one point, a bewildered fan bellowed “What happened to you, Eric?” in reference to guard Eric Hayes‘ struggles in ACC play (17-for-54 shooting, 31.5 percent).

It prompted some murmurs, but nothing like the taunt in the final seconds – something unlike anything I’ve ever heard from the much-maligned (and, at times, deservedly so) Maryland student section: “Why bother shooting, you’re not going to make it, anyway.”

That brought immediate replies from behind me, with the general theme being “That’s not cool.”

Regardless of anyone’s level of jadedness, it’s tough to disagree with that rebuke.

As far as student moments go, it was about as low as when I heard a girl at Florida State yell at Nigel “Big Jelly” Dixon in 2002, “I’ll give you a doughnut if you can catch the ball.” Not exactly a flattering situation.

Clearly, there is something increasingly rotten in the state of College Park. Maryland seems unlikely to make the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in five years, there was an unseemly he said-they said verbal scrum over the last 48 hours and everything in between seems a little shaky.

It’s a bad situation, and it’s safe to say any sort of erosion of student support will somehow make the perception of things even uglier.

Patrick Stevens