Injuries intensify college basketball court storming debate

[ad_1]

Just over a month after Iowa women’s basketball star Caitlin Clark collided on the court with an unidentified woman amid an Ohio State victory celebration, Duke‘s Kyle Filipowski was injured Saturday as a wave of Wake Forest fans rushed their home court after the Demon Deacons’ 83-79 defeat of the No. 8 Blue Devils.

A fan ran into Filipowski, and the Duke star hobbled off the court with help from teammates. “This gotta change…,” Filipowski posted on X after the game. Duke coach Jon Scheyer called for court storming to be banned, and Wake Forest coach Steve Forbes agreed.

Said Scheyer: “How many times does a player have to get into something, where they get punched, or they get pushed, or they get taunted right in their face? It’s a dangerous thing.”

It’s a question that has emerged with renewed urgency this college basketball season as several stars in the men’s and women’s games have been caught in the middle of storms. While scenes of masses of jubilant fans running onto a court date back to at least the black-and-white film days of the 1950s, in the modern version, fans spill onto the court and exultant participants, marketing-conscious schools and consumer-driven media outlets excitedly share the video.

Official statistics aren’t available, but according to an ESPN review, there have been about three court storms a week over the past three months in college basketball. In a three-hour span on Feb. 21, there were episodes in Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Rarely has anyone gotten hurt, but a 2004 court storm resulted in Arizona high school star Joe Kay suffering a stroke that left him partially paralyzed.

In December, Purdue men’s coach Matt Painter and his top-ranked Boilermakers lost at Northwestern. A month later, his No. 1-ranked team lost at Nebraska. A month after that, Purdue lost at Ohio State. Home-team fans stormed the court each time. In his postgame comments in Lincoln, Painter called for improved preparatory safety measures.

“A student from Nebraska should be able to storm the court, right? We’re cool, but get ready for it if that’s what you’re going to do,” Painter said. “Spread the word before somebody gets hurt.”

Zach Edey, Purdue’s 7-foot-4 center and the reigning national player of the year, told ESPN last week that there was “obviously the risk element to it.” In his team’s 11 road losses the past three seasons, fans stormed 10 times.

“Students, probably a lot of drunk students, charging the court against another team isn’t the safe thing to do, but I think it’s a part of the game,” Edey said. “I think it’s a reason for fans to go to games. I think there’s nothing wrong with it, as long as you do it safely.”

On Jan. 23 and Feb. 21, the Kentucky men lost road games, and opposing fans rushed the court. Per Southeastern Conference policy, the Wildcats were two-time recipients of $100,000 from fines the SEC levied against the home teams. In the second one, after an LSU buzzer-beater, Tigers women’s basketball star Angel Reese joined members of the student section who stormed and she weighed in on social media: “STORMED THE COURT, GOT KNOCKED DOWN BUT GUESS WHAT??? IT WAS ALL WORTH IT!!! GEAUX TIGERSSSS.”

After Clark hit the deck in Columbus on Jan. 21, the Iowa star didn’t suffer serious consequences in what she described as a “kind of scary” collision that knocked the wind out of her. But what if the 2023 National Player of the Year and No. 1 prospect in this year’s WNBA draft had been injured and her record-setting career derailed in an instant? On Saturday, what could have been done to prevent Filipowski, a top NBA prospect, from being injured? What if Edey or Reese had been hurt? What if any player, coach, official or fan gets hurt in a storm?

The same day as the Clark collision, a shirtless fan in New Orleans put his hand on the back of visiting Memphis player David Jones as the Tulane crowd stormed the court following a Green Wave win. Jones was uninjured, and Tulane condemned what happened, apologized and said it would investigate.

The incidents have sparked concern and scrutiny, and they have prompted a fresh round of questions about court storming: Should it be allowed? Can it be prevented? If it happens, what are schools and conferences doing to protect players, coaches and officials? How does event staff prepare? What conference policies or penalties are in place? What’s the harm anyway? Why is there debate?

After Clark’s collision, with court storming squarely in the spotlight, ESPN reached out to fans, players, coaches, administrators, crowd management experts, media members and the 32 Division I conferences for answers to some of the key questions about what should happen once the buzzer sounds at the end of a college basketball game.

Can it be prevented?

Discussions surrounding court storming come down to two questions: How can rules be enforced on such large crowds of ecstatic fans; and what are the risks of personal injury or property damage versus the rewards of such celebrations?

Stacey Hall, executive director of the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security, said controlling crowds is possible, but not easy. She suggested event hosts focus on preventive measures like discontinuing alcohol sales, planning alternative celebrations for the winning team or having coaches and leagues insist that fans stay at their seats at the end of a game. As for blocking fans from the court? Hall has low hopes.

“It’s just not economical to have hundreds and hundreds of staff link arms around the court,” Hall told ESPN in early February.

Although venues could shell out to hire enough security guards to surround courts or fields, excited fans have been known to push past them.

“How much security do you have at a football game, and you can’t hold them back,” LSU women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey said in January. “We can line them up like a bunch of soldiers out there, and at the end of the day, you’re outnumbered.”

Max Lehouiller, a Syracuse senior who joined a mob of fans who overwhelmed security after a Feb. 13 men’s home win against North Carolina, said having more event staff can make it worse.

“It puts this mindset into people like, ‘Oh, I have to sprint — I have to get by this person,” Lehouiller said.

An athletic facilities administrator at a Power 5 school, who asked to not be identified, recently told ESPN that given staff, budget and law enforcement limitations, “I subscribe to the idea that more people can be hurt, including staff, by trying to stop a storm than by trying to manage it.”

Hall said sanctions on individuals caught on a court or a field might work, but she’s not aware of schools that consistently impose them.

As for conferences’ penalties against schools, their effectiveness as a deterrent appears to be negligible.

One former university administrator in the SEC even publicly made light of the possibility of a fine against his school this season. When a slew of South Carolina fans rushed to celebrate a win against Kentucky’s men’s basketball team in January, former South Carolina president Harris Pastides joined them, later posting on social media: “I’ve paid a fine for storming the court after beating Kentucky before, but this time it was free for me so I joined the crowd!”

“I enjoyed every dollar,” Pastides said later.

Barry Geisler, former general manager of George Mason’s EagleBank Arena, said after Filipowski’s injury that the only way to stop court storming “is for the winning team to forfeit the game.”

“Coaches love the student energy from an upset win over a great opponent,” Geisler said. “The coach wouldn’t like it nearly as much if the game is forfeited.”

Kay, the Tucson High School star injured in 2004, told ESPN on Saturday that “it’s way too long that we’ve been putting up with this.”

“I’m completely in favor of banning court storms and field storms,” said Kay, 38. “The police should arrest people for going places they are not allowed to go … Hopefully people will now come to their senses.”

What is the debate?

At least until Saturday, plenty of players, coaches, fans and administrators seemed content with keeping up the tradition. Mulkey told reporters on Jan. 24 that she’d love to see a storm if her Tigers win a national title.

Big South commissioner Sherika Montgomery recently told ESPN she wants to mitigate risk wherever possible, but that banning storms might have a chilling effect on attendance. She said she wants the conference’s student-athletes to play in front of full crowds.

Montgomery attended the nationally televised game Feb. 1 at High Point, when fans stormed the court. She said the atmosphere was “electric” and security personnel escorted visiting Longwood off the court per conference policy, but the risks of storming warrant continuing reevaluation.

“My hopes for court storming in years to come will be, first and foremost, continued emphasis on the protection of student-athletes,” Montgomery said. “And if that comes at a cost of no court storming, and/or court storming being really curtailed in a way to a certain point, that is something that I think I definitely would support.”

Long opposed to court storms, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, a former Duke player, said they make for good advertising, but that it’s “just stupid” to tacitly encourage storming even when it’s forbidden by some conferences. Fellow ESPN analyst and former Tennessee player Andraya Carter said in a segment with Bilas last month, “That’s the one thing that you can do in college… it’s also an igniting moment for the team that wins.”

Carter did express concern for visiting players who, like Clark, have been caught in storms. “All you have to do is have a plan to get the opponents off the floor safely,” she said.

Watching Clark get bowled over changed Auburn men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl’s mind on storming. “I was kind of like, ‘Man, that’s just too dangerous right now,'” Pearl told ESPN prior to Saturday’s Duke-Wake Forest game. “I think we’ve got to find a different way to celebrate.”

What’s the NCAA’s position?

In a Feb. 20 interview with ESPN — after Clark, but before Filipowski — NCAA president Charlie Baker said of storming in football and basketball : “I totally get why people want to do this … but I think the risks, especially given the stakes involved for a lot of these young people, are pretty high.

“If we could move away from this, I think it’s a decision that’s got to be made at the conference level.”

Citing the safety of student-athletes, Baker said, “I think it’s certainly something people should be talking about.”

In a statement to ESPN last month, the NCAA said: “During the regular season, court-storming and security issues are handled by conference offices.” For NCAA championships held on campuses, the association said host schools “are expected to have security plans in place. The NCAA does not have a written court-storming best practices document but does have subject matter experts available to assist schools with developing those comprehensive plans.”

As for its championships at neutral sites — where storming is less of an issue because of the composition of crowds — the NCAA said “the national office works with host venue security and law enforcement to put necessary security plans in place.” Added the NCAA:, “In most Division I basketball championship sites, the layout/design of the court and surrounding stands helps to mitigate court rushing as well.”

What are some conferences doing?

In response to an ESPN query, 29 of 32 Division I conferences provided information on their court-storming policies and practices. More than half said they either have no policy or that their crowd-control approach covers storming, without mentioning it. A common denominator is an emphasis on the safe exit of visiting teams and game officials prior to crowds reaching the floor. Numerous conferences require schools’ action plans in writing.

ACC schools do not have a fine structure or disciplinary measures in place for when fans rush the court, according to information provided to ESPN. Each school manages its own events. There are some conference requirements for keeping officials and visiting teams safe and helping them off the floor.

Nine conferences — the Atlantic 10, Big East, Big South, Big Ten, Big 12, Conference USA, Pac-12, Southeastern and West Coast — said the home school for a court storm could be subject to a fine under certain circumstances. Some have precise penalties, while others have general language regarding disciplinary measures and their applicability.

Since the start of 2024, there have been three storms after Big Ten basketball games at Nebraska — Jan. 9, when the Cornhuskers routed top-ranked Purdue; Feb. 1, when they came back from 19 points down to beat No. 6 Wisconsin in overtime; and Feb. 11, when the Nebraska women’s team overcame a 14-point deficit to defeat Clark and No. 2 Iowa.

“I was one that stormed the court, so I’m guilty as charged,” Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts said on his monthly radio show in January about the Purdue postgame. “Even [football] Coach [Matt] Rhule looks at me and he goes, ‘Are we storming the court?’ And I said, ‘I think we have to.'”

The university declined ESPN’s requests to interview Alberts and other administrators, but provided a statement from Alberts, saying in part: “The issue is not the home team and its fans, it is the safety of the visiting team. This is an area where we can do a better job as schools and as a conference and there must be clear protocol in place to make sure the opposing team gets off the court safely. It is important for schools to communicate that plan, and that the opposing team adheres to the plan that is in place.”

What are fans doing?

One of the first videos that the Creighton fan club posted after the Bluejays’ Feb. 20 victory against Connecticut included the message: “If you’re going to storm the court, do it the right way.” After an initial rush, it showed most of the celebrants jogging neatly toward the center of the floor from part of the sideline not lined with belt stanchions and uniformed security guards.

The number of storming videos has exploded in recent years. Broadcasters keep their cameras rolling, and after fans descend, spectators and stormers post their own footage. It’s unclear how much that contributes to the popularity of storms, but it certainly means that some people rushing onto the court have a phone-sized gap in their field of vision and one fewer hand with which to navigate a crowd. The person who knocked down Clark was one of several on the floor seen filming while moving around the court.

Weeks after that storm in Columbus, a crew of college seniors descended on the court to celebrate Syracuse’s unexpected win against North Carolina. Lehouiller told ESPN that even before the game started, he expected to join a storm if the Orange won. As Syracuse began to pull ahead and the crowd was on its feet, Lehouiller texted his friends: “storm chasing? [side eye emoji]”

Looking back, Lehouiller acknowledged the risk of injury and said he felt for the security guards who tried in vain to keep the crowds back. But at the time, he didn’t hesitate, knowing he soon would graduate and this could be his last chance to participate in what he called the greatest tradition of college sports. The experience, he said, is now memorialized in video he shot on his phone.

“This is the only good situation to have a mob mentality,” he said. “It’s something that I will talk about, like, forever. I don’t think I’ll ever beat that memory.”

ESPN researcher John Mastroberardino contributed to this report.



[ad_2]

Source link

Leave a Comment