Whether it’s beating the No. 1 team in the nation or ending a long losing streak to a rival, college students are now finding any reason to storm the court following a big win. But after Jared Sullinger accused storming Wisconsin fans of spitting on him, some believe this college rite should be stopped. We examine.
There are genuine concerns about fans storming hardwood, most of them having to do with safety for both the players and the fans.
The Sullinger incident is the most recent news we’ve seen of a bad player-fan interaction. After Sullinger tweeted about being spit in the face, CBS college basketball analyst Seth Davis went to Twitter and offered his opinion: “Jared Sullinger tweets that someone spit in his face in court storm. Only a matter of time before something tragic happens in one of these.”
The doomsday scenario is that either a huge brawl erupts between players and fans like the “Malice in the Palace” or students end up suffering catastrophic injuries while getting crushed during a court storming gone wrong.
The Sullinger incident isn’t the first time we’ve heard of alleged incidents between players and fans.
Kentucky’s DeMarcus Cousins was accused of punching a South Carolina student after fans stormed the court last season although video of the incident was inconclusive.
And in 2004 Florida coach Billy Donovan accused a Georgia fan of punching Matt Walsh after fans stormed the court.
So in 2006 Florida State fans prematurely stormed the court prior to their upset win over Duke, Coach K took action into his own hands. After the floor was cleared, Mike Krzyzewski sent all of his bench players to the locker room before the game ended.
Said Krzyzewski at the time: “I would think that security is not ready for that type of thing. We weren’t going to win the basketball game, the game was basically over, so why put those kids in harm’s way?”
And while it didn’t happen during a college game, in 2004 an Arizona high school player suffered a stroke and almost died after he hit a game-winning shot and was mobbed by storming fans.
It’s not just the players in danger, either. Whenever fans storm the playing field, news reports always include reported injuries which are usually nothing more than cuts and scraps from fans who’ve fallen during the fracas. While the college game hasn’t seen fans suffer life-threatening injuries or die during these celebrations, like some soccer clubs overseas have witnessed, the dangers are there.
And efforts to stop fans from rushing the court aren’t as simple as they seem.
At a Wisconsin football game in 1993, a gate in front of the student section was left closed while students tried to rush the field. Despite students on the lower level being stuck behind the gate, the students from the upper levels continued to move forward, creating a crush. Known as the “Wisconsin stampede,” there were 75 reported injuries and several very serious ones, as the school was condemned by the national media for the incident.
More recently a Madison Square Garden guard was criticized for putting a St. John’s student in a choke hold following the Red Storm’s upset win over Duke a couple weeks ago.
It highlights a concern many athletic directors have that the presence of security and police might actually antagonize a crowd, creating more ugly incidents like the one at MSG. No parent wants to see their child assaulted by a police officer or hit in the face with pepper spray just for storming the court or field.
So if barriers create a hazard and a police presence could make things worse, how can a school stop the tide of storming students? The SEC has tried fining schools for students storming the playing field (under the umbrella of sportsmanship) but it’s the only conference that has taken that step.
Other schools relocated students sections, like putting them behind the pep band, or made sure they were as far as possible from the visiting bench. Other schools have situated the visitor’s bench closest to the locker rooms so that the team can exit as quickly as possible.
No one solution is perfect and student sections will always outnumber security during a sporting event. And fans, particularly many who’ve had the chance to storm the playing surface during their college days, just chalk up storming the court or field to just another experience all college students should have once in their lives.
We can only hope nothing like the Wisconsin stampede or the “Malice in the Palace” ever happens in college basketball.