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Mason Homecoming, Sans Mechanical Bull

As someone who once brought some washed-rind artisanal cheese and craft beer to a NASCAR parking lot for the pre-race festivities, I'll admit to being slightly biased in favor of tailgaters, especially tailgaters whose idea of a proper tailgate involves giant tricycles and rented mechanical bulls. Which is why my interest was piqued by all this talk of a mild tailgating controversy at George Mason, where policies about alcohol consumption at tomorrow's homecoming led a group of alumni to organize a separate party at a local bar. A party that will attract 400 or 500 people, will feature a raffle involving airline tickets and resort stays and $50 bills and "Reno 911!" impersonators, and is being organized by a guy who calls himself "a red-blooded Caucasian male" and gives the following quote: "We're not 20 years olds, we're not 19; we're grown-[up] men that make six figures and drive big cars. I'm gonna listen to these guys tell me when and where I can have a cold beverage? Unacceptable."

That was Greg Brown, a Founding Father of the Fairfax Social Club, a group of red-blooded 30-something Mason grads who have followed the basketball team for years, through the days when the arena was mostly empty and the tailgating rare and the Final Four berths even rarer. Mason used to organize its homecomings around soccer games; Greg, being a red-blooded Caucasian male, wasn't down with that because, as he so aptly puts it, "who in the blue hell wants to watch a soccer game?" So nine years ago, the FSC and other groups of alums began tailgating in the dead of winter before basketball games, and the FSC began holding more and more elaborate parties, parties which involved amusement park-style race cars and visits from GMU President Alan G. Merten and great quantities of red-blooded dead animals.

Then, this winter, word started trickling out that, as the school's Homecoming site says, "Beer and wine will be available for purchase only. No BYOB."

"Kind of a slap in our face," said Mike McNutt, another FSC Founding Father.

"I couldn't believe this to be true," Brown said.

This led to message board threads. And more message board threads. And online petitions, based on a letter Brown wrote to everyone affiliated with the school he could think of.

The FSC guys say it wasn't so much the alcohol rules, which stipulate that beer can only be bought from official vendors; it was the feeling that they had lost control over their tailgates and their parties. I asked Brown what made them so angry, and he had a ready answer.

"Freedom," he said. "Without sounding like Mel Gibson from 'Braveheart.' Like I said in my letter, I'm smart enough to earn a degree from the school, but I can't monitor my own alcohol intake, and they're going to turn it into a profit center? The only other person that I can imagine doing this? Dan Snyder."

So anyhow, when he didn't like the responses he got from the organizers, he and his FSC chums "said, 'Hey, let's start thinking about Plan B'," according to McNutt. "We just wanted to throw a party, and we just felt if we did it under their rules we wouldn't be in control. We wanted control, because we know we bring the goods."

So even though they had planned to rent a mechanical bull this year, they decided to take their party inside. They started soliciting donations, through work contacts and personal contacts and what Brown called "hustle." They started a Web site. CAA blogger and book author Michael Litos signed up to do a book signing. Word spread and interest grew.

"We did this off MySpace and Evites and word of mouth," McNutt said.

"I got pissed off and tapped into a reservoir of people that were saying, all right, maybe Brown's got a point'," Brown said.

The party's at Brion's Grille tomorrow, starting at noon. Brion Sumser, the owner of Brion's, said he has a great relationship with the university, that he's not trying to get in the middle of this dispute, and that he just wants to enhance the homecoming weekend. "This is not an adversarial party," he said. "I would never do anything to embarrass an institution that's been so good to me."

The school's official Block Party starts at 12:30 (theme: Green 'N Gold, Never Fold), and will feature a most-spirited fan contest, a pie-eating contest, postgame fireworks and an open skate at an ice rink. But the Brion's Grille event made it into the Patriot Club newsletter, and there will surely be people who go to both events.

As for the FSC guys, they say they're absolutely against under-aged drinking, and they acknowledge that this isn't the most important issue in the world, but they're still a bit excited by what they started.

"It's fairly comical at the end of the day that we're having this conversation, but you know, it's what ties us all together," Brown said. "It struck a chord with us, so we reacted."

"It kind of grew to a point where you're talking to us right now about a homecoming party 12 guys put together at a restaurant," McNutt said. "It just happened to become a monster."

By Dan Steinberg  |  February 16, 2007; 4:49 PM ET
Categories:  College Basketball  
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