UNT fans for student seating story

North Texas fans dance in the stands during the Mean Green’s game against Florida Atlantic last season at Apogee Stadium. Conference USA has lifted its ban on seating students behind the visitors’ benches at league stadiums. The league began enforcing the ban in 2014 largely because of the hostile environment at Apogee Stadium.

The hostile nature of Apogee Stadium led Conference USA to take a hard-line stance on student seating back in 2014, banning those fans from sitting directly behind an opponent’s bench.

North Texas athletic director Wren Baker confirmed Saturday that league officials have voted to reverse course and will allow students to sit in those premium seats.

Florida Atlantic took advantage of the rule change this week to shift its student section to premium seating at the 50-yard line behind the visitors bench, a move reported by Chuck King of FAU Owl Access.

UNT is considering a similar move, Baker confirmed.

“We are going to look at it,” Baker said.

C-USA had a rule on its books that prohibited students from sitting directly behind benches for visiting teams at football games.

That rule was not strictly enforced until the 2014 season. The change was made largely because of the hostile environment at Apogee in 2013, when Dan McCarney led the Mean Green to a breakout 9-4 season that included a win over UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

The C-USA office received complaints that season about the conduct of students directly behind the visitors bench at Apogee. The league elected to strictly enforce a modified rule that prohibited students from being seated in an area between the 35-yard lines and in the first five rows behind the visitors bench.

UNT responded by reserving those seats for young alumni. People who had graduated within the last five years were eligible for an area that included approximately 240 seats behind the visitors’ bench.

UNT will look into how many of those seats have already been sold to fans who fit the young alumni parameters for the upcoming season before deciding on a course of action, Baker said.

The return of student seating behind the visitors bench could add to what has become one of C-USA’s best home-field advantages over the last two years. UNT is 11-1 at Apogee in that span and 31-15 in Denton since the venue opened in 2011.

Former UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal lobbied against C-USA’s restriction on student seating being enforced in 2014. He saw placing students in the seats behind the visitors bench as an opportunity to put the most enthusiastic fans in the most visible of locations for television games and as a way to secure future fans.

Baker took a similar stance after taking over for Villarreal in 2016.

FAU moved its student section as a trade-off for an increase of $2 per credit hour in its athletics fee, according to King.

“[FAU students] are very excited about it,” FAU athletic director Brian White told King. “It’s something that they wanted and it’s something that I think will be good for FAU.”

Baker has similar hopes for UNT and its fans who helped spark the rule change. Those fans could be within yards of opposing teams once again in the next few years.

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.

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