Crowds Too Rowdy?

By Staff

Athletic Management, 15.3, April/May 2003,

When the University of South Carolina athletics department designed its new $64 million Carolina Center, administrators made sure to create a special student section to increase home-court advantage. The section, which is close to the floor, sits much lower than those behind it, allowing students to remain on their feet the whole game.

“The new section is working as we had hoped,” says South Carolina Director of Athletics Mike McGee.

Still, some wonder if this desire to re-create crowds a la Duke’s “Cameron Crazies” is a step in the wrong direction, especially in light of some college football fans’ behavior last fall. In February, 130 athletic administrators began discussing the nuances of changing fans’ conduct at a special “Sportsmanship and Fan Behavior Summit.” While no rules changes were suggested, administrators vowed to come up with solutions before the 2003 fall season begins.

In the meantime, Murray State University Professor Daniel Wann, who conducts research on sports psychology and crowd behavior, offers his advice. “If you incite your fans to be crazy, you can’t expect they won’t start cussing at people,” he says. “What you have to do is allow for the rowdiness, but try to set up a culture and atmosphere where it’s done in good taste.”

The key, Wann says, is patience and consistency. “We didn’t go from civility to incivility overnight, so we shouldn’t expect to reverse it quickly,” he says. “There are pretty humorous cheers that can be done in good taste, but others where you want to cover your kids’ ears. We need to get the players, coaches, and athletic administrators saying to fans, ‘We want you to cheer, but don’t be chanting obscenities at the top of your lungs because there are kids here.’

“I don’t think anyone wants fans to stop cheering—that’s not the answer,” continues Wann, a speaker at the summit and author of Sports Fans: The Psychological and Social Impact of Spectators. “But at what point does the crazy silly behavior start putting someone in harm’s way or infringing on the rights and fun of someone else?”