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THROWING THE FLAG ON THE FANS

The Buffalo Bills put out a welcome signal last week by sending lawyers to the Orchard Park courtroom where stadium-rowdiness cases were being heard.

It also was encouraging to hear Bills treasurer Jeffrey C. Littman note problems with excess alcohol consumption by some fans, and pledge that "things have to change in that regard."

This season's problems with lewd or belligerent fan behavior at Ralph Wilson Stadium can't go unchecked. When game day brings more than 40 arrests, as one did this fall, the entire stadium experience is in jeopardy.

The Bills are right to take this seriously. Incidents ranged from sex in the stands to robbery, assault against stadium guards, harassment and disorderly conduct. If that becomes commonplace, both Buffalo's reputation and the Bills' ticket sales will suffer.

The Bills have decided to resist plea reductions, arguing that those who have done enough to be arrested either plead guilty or face trial on the charges originally placed against them. Prosecutors should give that policy a lot of weight, and so should the Orchard Park town court.

The Bills ought to consider further steps, as well. In an era when millions are spent on players, an investment of far less to hire more security guards would be money well spent. In addition, it may be time to consider making Wilson Stadium alcohol free as well as smoke free.

People go to the stadium for a good time. There already are restrictions on fans, and it would be unfortunate if the bad behavior of a relatively few jerks imposes even more limiting regulations on the majority.

But the Bills may have no choice, not if they want to keep the focus on the field and not on the stands. Cracking down now on the few can insure many pleasant afternoons for the many.

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