One of the most memorable clips from the recent NCAA college football Sugar Bowl actually occurred before the game, when University of Texas mascot, Bevo the longhorn steer, broke out of its pen and charged toward the University of Georgia’s bulldog mascot Uga, toppling photographers and gaining extensive media coverage in the process.
The scene created more than a little controversy, with many critics suggesting it’s past time for big, sometimes unruly, mascots to leave the sidelines of college football games. Fans, however, revolted at this idea, saying tradition is too important in college athletics, and mascots like Bevo and his erstwhile opponent, Georgia’s Uga, need to stay or the spirit of the sport will suffer. Now, weeks after the controversy erupted, University of Texas President Gregory L. Fenves has spoken out regarding his view on the issue.
His comments are sure to cheer fans and aggravate critics: “Bevo remains a great symbol for the university … We take the safety very seriously, but we’re going to continue to have Bevo as our mascot …”
Clearly, there’s no wiggle room as far as Fenves is concerned, a perspective he telegraphed earlier this month with a well-publicized visit to the ranch Bevo calls home. Fenves called the opportunity to visit with Bevo “a privilege,” even tweeting out a photo of himself with the steer. “He’s an incredible animal and a great symbol for the university.”
Many, even some critics, agree that Bevo is a strong symbol for the university, and that on-the-sideline mascots at NCAA games are a unique and treasured part of college football’s culture. But, they wonder, is there any middle ground where Fenves and others might meet them? Not according to Fenves, who doesn’t see this as anything more than an unfortunate one-off event.
“We’re always looking at the protocols for Bevo at public events. I don’t think they need to be revised. There were some peculiarities of the new situation and a very crowded environment. The Silver Spurs will just have to be more cognizant as they handle Bevo … It’s just the general issue of Bevo in large crowds and trying to keep him away from large crowds and at a safe distance …”
Fenves went on to describe several specific ways the university protects both the steer and fans, as well as cameramen, during UT home games. He claimed it was the environment, and not the animal, that caused the situation.
In taking this hard stance, Fenves invites criticism, but that’s a calculated risk. To bow to temporary pressure by changing a longstanding tradition would, likely, have even harsher consequences, for Fenves, his school and his team.