It is both exhilarating and intimidating; the fuel of the youth and the burden of the curmudgeon; the moment when overwhelming hysteria meets eager anticipation, uniting in triumphant beauty. Court storming.
Some have experienced the sensation but many more have watched the familiar scene unfold on the T.V. in front of them.
And thanks to Arizona head coach Sean Miller, we now have a reason to dispute and debate the prospect of court storming until, once more, we lose interest after a lack of action.
After his team’s 75-72 loss, Miller spoke out saying, “eventually what’s going to happen in the Pac-12 is this: An Arizona player is going to punch a fan… out of self defense.” Miller continued on to voice a specific frustration over a lack of concern for player safety.
And the hard truth is that he’s not wrong. The decent of hundreds of college students down onto the same floor as the visiting players is nothing but an unruly, chaotic mess, and has long been a nightmare for coaches. As a fan, you want nothing else. It is the unspoken marketing pitch for every big game; if we beat the unbeatable, we storm the court and we go berserk.
However, more than that is another hard reality; court storming is near impossible to stop. The S.E.C. is the only conference with a formal penalty in place, an incremental fine that extends up to $250,000.
While it has reduced the frequency of occurrences, it has far from stopped them. In the waning seconds of a 2014 South Carolina upset win over 17th-ranked Kentucky, the public address announcer warned Gamecock fans not to storm the court for risk of fine. The school ended up coughing up $25,000, something the students—most of which pay between $26,000 – $45,000 to attend—didn’t seem to mind.
What we can do, however, is be smart. In the face of a crisis we must not blink, but instead learn from our past blunders.
This is, perhaps, the kind of situation that would benefit from a sort of last resort, instructive list of principles. Allow me to digress.
Rule #1, always protect the players. Security for the players and coaches alike is no longer debatable. While coaches receive an escort, it must be customary for players to receive the same protection while leaving the court. It is far easier to protect twelve players than it is to prevent hundreds of students from storming the court. What’s more is that it allows security personnel to act with justified authority in the event that a student posse a threat to a visiting player.
After Kansas St.’s upset win over rival Kansas last season, campus police issued a student a disorderly conduct citation for forcefully bumping Kansas forward Jamari Taylor in the midst of a court storming celebration. The current policy states that it’s the responsibility of individual conferences and schools to provide appropriate security, which only leaves 351 different Division One schools each with their own protocols. There is no excuse, with several designated officers in charge of immediately securing the players the chances of a violent altercation decrease exponentially.
Rule #2, the game must be over. It is unrealistic to think that security ought to restrain students for 2-3 minuets following the game to give players enough time to escape the scene, not to mention, it essentially defeats the purpose behind court storming. But there is, however, a remaining responsibility that must be assumed by the students; do not storm if the game is not yet over.
In a 2009 matchup between Washington St. and Oregon, fans began storming the court after a late Washington St. basket… with .3 seconds still left on the clock. The team was issued a technical, allowing Oregon the opportunity to send the game to overtime where they eventually won. Waiting is hard, but what’s even harder is earning a loss for a team that you don’t even play for.
Rule #3, do not go over, under or through game staff and officials. It’s a pretty straightforward and encompassing rule. There are numerous reporters, analysts, cameramen and officials all surrounding the court. There are also numerous points of entrance to the court. Above all, there are hundreds of students all eager to share and take part in the celebration. The individuals who are being paid for their services at the game do not share the same feeling.
Rule #4, protect the players! I need not touch on the dynamics of college sports revenue and how it’s allocated, but the priority of player safety is unparalleled.
Even the prohibition of court storming, which would initiate outrage from fans, would likely have a greater financial impact than hiring a few extra security guards.
Rule #5, remember that you don’t want to fight a player. The evolving technology that we’ve all gotten used to can be deceiving, let me assure you, you do not want to engage in a fight with the 215lb, six-foot-eight forward that you’ve been mocking all night. Those are, already, not great odds and when you combine them with the raw emotion following a heartbreaking loss you are perfecting the ingredients for a recipe that you do not want to taste.
Rule #6, do not enter the court if you cannot also exit it. Yes, this is a necessary rule. In 2013, following their win over Duke, North Carolina St. forward C.J. Leslie assisted a student who had fallen from his wheelchair in the midst of storming the court. The student later admitted it was, the “dumbest thing” to do. If you are not readily able to fend for yourself amongst a heard of wild and crazed fanatics, please do not even attempt the exercise.
Rule #7, don’t forget that we’re all on the same team. Before the game it was a mass migration with everyone heading for the arena. During the game and as the camera pans over the student section a roar erupts in unison, a collective and exultant battle cry. It’s a sad tale when group members are hurt by their own, but it’s a story that has been told before.
In 1993, what became known as the “Camp Randall Crush” left 70 Wisconsin fans injured after storming the court in their team’s win over Michigan. It’s undoubtedly a moment to cherish and celebrate, but in doing so, you must also look out for the kid that sits three rows ahead of you in class.
Report on the Camp Randall Crush:
RULE #8, ALWAYS PROTECT THE PLAYERS!!
Rule #9, remember what you’re celebrating. Just like the Cup Noodles that sits ominously at the back of your pantry, court storming can get old real quickly. It is a rare gem that must be kept scarce in order to preserve its value. Storming the court in light of any circumstances beyond a notable win is a disservice to every basketball fan in the country.
In December of 2014, University of Alabama-Birmingham students stormed the court after a marginal twelve-point victory in order to protest the school’s cut of the football program. But fear not, it’s not too late to save the name of court storming for future generations.
Rule #10, don’t look stupid. This is your chance. Many schools never grace the highlight tapes of ESPN, but you can guarantee that a court-storming win will earn you a spot. Don’t blow it. You don’t want to be the person that hurdles sideline reporters and falls on their face on national T.V. You don’t want to run on the floor with .3 seconds left and cost your team a win. You don’t want to be the headline, you want to save that for the big win.
Cover Photo Credit: John Smith/Flickr (CC by-SA 2.0).