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Courting Danger Postgame stampedes are on the rise, and players are paying the price

After Oklahoma State beat Texas 76-67 at home to clinch a share
of the Big 12 title on March 1, hundreds of Cowboys fans stormed
the court. "I had dreams last night it was going to end with fans
on the court celebrating," Oklahoma State forward Joey Graham
said. Not everyone found the situation so dreamy--especially
courtside photographers caught in the bedlam. "There was just a
wave of kids coming over the top of me," says Greg Nelson. "I got
run over. I was scared. It was just a total mess." That was
insignificant compared with what happened on Feb. 6, when Tucson
High senior Joe Kay was trampled by classmates who rushed the
floor after Kay scored the final basket in a 62-54 win over
Salpointe Catholic. Kay, who had just signed a volleyball
scholarship to Stanford, suffered a broken jaw and a torn carotid
artery, which led to a stroke. (Stanford has said it will honor
his scholarship even though Kay may never walk again.)

Fans storming the court is nothing new, but stampedes appear to
be more frequent. Said Louisville coach Rick Pitino, "It's just
gotten to where any win you get, [it's] 'Let's storm the court.'"
With March Madness nearing full swing, the trend shows no signs
of letting up. "This has been building for a long time," says
Charles Bloom, a spokesman for the SEC, which spearheaded a 2003
summit on fan behavior. "And it's incredibly difficult to

The hysteria is not confined to basketball. In 2002 a 67-year-old
sheriff's deputy lost consciousness after being overrun by
Clemson fans hell-bent on tearing down the goalposts. Last fall
after West Virginia upset Virginia Tech police used pepper spray
to disperse unruly celebrants. That approach, says crowd
psychologist and Murray State professor Dan Wann, is a mistake.
Wann praises schools that, for football games, have installed
collapsible goalposts, which dissuade fans from charging the
field. At basketball games he suggests devoting an aisle to fans
who want to file onto the floor after a cooldown period. The
idea, he says, is to contain rather than confront postgame
mayhem. Says Wann, "Schools need to make rules and be patient
until spectators adjust."


COLOR PHOTO: LANCE MURPHEY/AP (BASKETBALL FANS) TOO HAPPY Officials wonder if clear-cut rules will stop thecelebrations.