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 control."
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."