Today I thought I would join the sports media world and take on the “buzz” of college hoops. You cannot turn on a sports radio or television broadcast this morning without hearing the media discuss Coach K’s comments in regards to the dangers of court storming. The problem is, the people who are either supporting or disregarding his comments have never been a part of an experience quite like a college basketball court storming. Well, in my short time around the game of basketball I have been in the middle of seven of them. Two at Tennessee, and one each at Florida State, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Arkansas, and in Las Vegas at the New Orleans Casino vs Kansas. Let me tell you one thing, these are no laughing matter. Several of these times I found myself in the midst of fans pushing and screaming obscenities in my face while en route to center court. Let me state this now: I am in no way condemning the above Universities or their athletics departments. I am simply using my experiences as examples.
While I understand that it is a “fun experience” for the students; you are surrounding multi-million dollar coaches and players with hundreds if not thousands of impetuous college students. There is no one in charge and there is little to no security on the court level. Let’s be honest, some retirees wearing security coats holding a yellow rope is NOT security. Let me give you a couple of scenarios to think about.
Six of my court storming experiences were while the famed 04’s (Horford, Noah, Brewer, Green) were playing at Florida. All four of those players (not including Coach Billy Donovan) are worth well over $100 Million dollars in terms of basketball money. Not to mention we also had a 1st round draft pick in Mo Speights ($9+ Million) on the roster in a couple of those. What would have happened if during those instances a crazed college student injured (on purpose or by accident) one of these future multi-millionaires? Who would be held accountable? Additionally, if such a tragedy did happen the Gators may not have made it to either Final 4; costing the University of Florida millions of dollars in marketing and revenue.
Some of you may be thinking, “Yeah but what are the odds of that happening?”. Well in the case of our game at Florida State; it could have very easily gotten out of hand. I am not sure about their policies now, but during this time the arena the Seminoles used sold alcohol during games. If you are trying to tell me that intoxicated college students think rationally while storming the court, then you should probably just stop reading this now. I will however commend their security personnel; they did a great job securing off the post-game hand shake line and directing us off the court away from the pandemonium.
Let me give you another scenario that actually did happen. In our upset loss in Nashville against Vanderbilt in 2007, one of our players was accused of punching a fan who rushed the court (If you watch the video you can see how ineffective the yellow jacketed security was). I was standing about 15 feet from this player and we were completely surround by crazed fans coming onto the court from all angles while we were looking for a way to the locker room. I will not argue if he did or did not throw a punch, but that is the situation he was put in. He was reprimanded and it was replayed all over ESPN. What was not looked at on ESPN was that fact that he was violently shoved before the “accused” punch was thrown.
One last story that happened before I got to the University of Florida. Sophomore Guard Matt Walsh was punched in the face by a University of Georgia student who rushed the court after upsetting the Gators in 2004. The story can be read here (Warning – There are some inappropriate words in the article). Florida Athletic Director, whom I have the utmost respect for, was quoted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as saying, “Somebody was going after Matt Walsh, and I was trying to stop him…Fans running on the floor, they do it every time, and the league doesn’t care. Sooner or later, somebody’s going to get hurt.”
Oh and remember the student in the wheelchair at NC State? What if CJ Leslie didn’t rescue him?
The SEC (Southeastern Conference) is the only league that I am aware of that fines and reprimands its member institutions for such behaviors. Unfortunately, the fans and students don’t care about the fines and the arenas fail to provide enough security to prevent such behaviors. The University of Florida actually has railings around the entire bottom bowl to prevent court storming from occurring and keep the teams on the floor safe.
Do I agree with everything Coach K said? Yes. Do I believe that something needs to be changed to provide more player safety? Yes. Do I have the answer? No. That is the NCAA’s job. Something must be done. If you want to truly protect your student-athletes and its fans it is time to be proactive. Not after someone gets injured…but now!