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Editorial: The Bills call foul

It’s all fun and games until someone sets himself on fire.

The Buffalo Bills last week announced new steps aimed at cutting down on the knucklehead behavior shown by some of the team’s customers, whose alcohol-fueled antics can turn game-day tailgating into ghastly adventures in babysitting.

The team is raising the price by $40 for buses parking in the bus lot at New Era Field. Also, buses will be required to buy permits in advance, plus put down a $100 deposit that will be returned if none of the bus’ passengers cause problems.

Anything the Bills can do to make the stadium environs more family-friendly and less like an uncontrolled fraternity party sounds like a smart idea.

A relatively small subset of Bills fandom has become infamous for its antics outside the stadium, which have spread on websites like Deadspin and Barstool Sports. Jumping off vehicles, crashing through folding tables, spraying fellow fans with food, drink or condiments – it’s all in a day’s work for some of the arrested-development crowd. More than one fan has set himself on fire while trying to impress his peers with some drunken act of derring-do, like crashing onto a flaming folding table.

Much of the rowdy behavior occurs near the stadium in private parking lots, over which the Bills have no control. Other incidents do happen on Bills property. Last season there were two occasions when the Bills had to eject buses from the bus lot due to problems generated by the passengers. The team said that was a first.

The new rules this year will require buses to pre-register for a permit, and the person registering will be responsible for the conduct of the passengers – a smart way to establish accountability for poor behavior.

The Bills are well aware of how the actions of a relatively small number of fans can reflect poorly on the rest, as well as lessen the game-day experience for customers who just want to watch the game. The team in 2014 created the M&T Family Zone at the stadium, a 500-seat section meant to appeal to parents and kids.

The word fan, of course, is derived from “fanatic,” but that is no excuse for some of the crazy stunts that some of them are pulling after overindulging in alcohol.

We get that a football game isn’t Disney on Ice. We have no illusions that alcohol won’t be part of many NFL patrons’ pregame rituals, that fans will refrain from profanity during the heat of a game, or that tailgaters will hold hands and sing hymns in the parking lots. But the pendulum has swung much too far in the other direction.

In May, representatives from the Erie County Sheriff’s Office and Orchard Park police attended the NFL’s annual Security Conference in San Diego, where law enforcement personnel from around the country compared notes and received education on how best to police pro football games. Discussions included issues such as tailgating and fan drinking, along with security screening and other safety issues. We hope they brought back some actionable advice.

What happens in Orchard Park doesn’t stay in Orchard Park, not while the majority of fans carry a smartphone in their pockets. Erie County Sheriff Timothy B. Howard last year spoke some words of warning for fans going to Bills games.

“Be careful what you post on the internet because it’s out there forever,” he said. “The alcohol helps people make bad decisions. It doesn’t enhance your ability to do anything else.”

With their new bus regulations, the Bills are making good decisions aimed at deterring their fans from making poor ones.

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