The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday August 12th

UNC Sports Fans Well-Behaved, Officials Report

But UNC-CH officials say that they are prepared to deal peacefully with situations that could arise this basketball season and that fans here generally cooperate with them.

"Our students have complied when we ask that they do not go any further," said Maj. Jeff McCracken of University police. "Basically, we just stand on the goal posts and tell people (the goal posts) cannot leave the stadium, and they say, 'OK.'"

The last on-field incident at UNC-CH occurred during the 2001 season, when the 0-3 Tar Heels defeated heavily favored Florida State University. Fans Fans spent about one hour taking down one goal post but did not attempt to remove it from the stadium.

Police at N.C. State University's football victory over FSU on Nov. 23 used pepper spray to control celebrants trying to carry a goal post out of the stadium, said N.C. State Police Sgt. Jon Barnwell.

"We were not trying to stop the celebration or rain on everybody's parade," Barnwell said. "Instead of listening to reason, (some fans) decided to push the envelope, so we had to spray them."

Several other football celebrations this season have provoked forceful police responses. Fans threw turf at state troopers at Ohio State University, threw debris at the opposing team at Washington State University and trampled security guards at the University of California-Berkeley.

Celebrations such as these are unique to college athletics because professional sports officials have cracked down on unruly fans, said UNC sports psychology Professor John Silva. Men who are 14 to 28 years old are the most likely to misbehave at sporting events, and they are plentiful in the college environment.

"You get young males watching an activity that activates them, and many are drinking alcohol that disinhibits them," Silva said. "It happens more often when you are looking at ... sports when there is aggression on the actual field of play."

The loyalty and tradition at many colleges foster the environment for this reaction, Silva said. He added that many of the authorities who would punish fans are fans who don't want to appear unsupportive. "There has been a lot of tolerance from people about it, saying it would be almost unpatriotic to curb the celebration," he said.

Rubber bullets, tear gas and batons have been used in attempts to control fans, but Silva said measures such as those pose the risk of further escalating the problem. "I think there are other ways you can curb the problem without using rubber bullets and things like that," he said.

Steve Kirschner, UNC assistant athletic director of media relations, said that University police never have used force to restrain fans from tearing down goal posts because "it's only a piece of metal" but that students would not be allowed to remove them from the stadium.

"We're not going to fight our own fans for taking a goal post down," Kirschner said. "If they are beating each other up or attacking the other team, then we will take necessary steps to stop them."

There is a good chance fans will rush the court during at least one basketball game this season, but security personnel are prepared, Kirschner said. The close proximity of fans to the court forces security at basketball games to act quickly.

"At the end of the game, our security people each identify one person on the other team to get off the floor," Kirschner said. "Our players and our coaches are more on their own because they are closer to the tunnel and it is our fans rushing the court."

Ideally, fans would remain in the stands after big wins, Kirschner said, but safe on-field celebration can build loyalty. He said he enjoys when fans rush the field because these celebrations follow meaningful wins.

"We have such great school spirit, and we hope we have those great victories," Kirschner said. "That enthusiasm from the crowd is probably part of the reason we won."

The University Editor can be reached at udesk@unc.edu.

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