Court-storming a tricky debate

When I officiated basketball, I can recall being caught in a court-storming situation by fans at high school games. I don?t recall it as being particularly scary, although I had to weave my way off the court to the safety of the dressing room.

By and large, the students rushing the court were oblivious to my presence. They ran onto the court to celebrate with their team at the exciting conclusion of a nail-biter. Still, I couldn?t help but bump into several students as I left the court.

The late-season court-rushing incident at K-State after an upset win over Kansas was far more serious. One fan appeared to intentionally collide with a KU player, and KU Coach Bill Self was trapped along the scorers? table as K-State Coach Bruce Webber provided a human shield.

It wasn?t pretty and put a damper on a night that should have been more about the game than what happened after the final buzzer.

?It?s a ballgame,? Self said. ?It?s fine if you want to celebrate when you beat us, that?s your business. That?s fine. But at least you shouldn?t put anybody at risk.?

KU appears to lead the nation in being victimized by court-storming situations this season. That?s what happens when you?re perennially one of the best teams in the country and you lose on the road.

It?s easy to appreciate the exuberance of students after a big win. On the other hand, when a mob mentality is at work, even though most are in a celebratory mood, anything can happen.

I suppose KU can be proud that opposing fans think beating them is that noteworthy. But both Okla?homa State and K-State have beaten KU the past couple of years. At what point should fans begin to celebrate without storming the court?

I?m a tad wishy-washy when it comes to whether storming the court should be allowed. I don?t want to come across as an old fogey and say court-storming should be disallowed. However, I?m far from wishy-washy when it comes to the importance of protecting players, coaches and officials. That has to take precedence.

That said, if a court-storming appears to be a possibility, at the very least, security should act quickly to provide a way of escape for the visiting team and officials. It should be understood beforehand that if there?s a potential of court-storming, the two teams should forego the obligatory sportsmanlike handshake line, and the visiting team should immediately get off the court, no disrespect intended.

The Southeastern Confer?ence fines teams as much as $50,000 for a court-storming. But that?s the exception and hardly the rule nationwide for dealing with the issue.

Few athletes can claim more firsthand knowledge of the danger of fans storming the court than 27-year-old Arizonan Joe Kay.

A 6-foot-6 high school valedictorian, Kay was a basketball and volleyball star headed to Stanford. Nine years ago, Kay?s breakaway dunk climaxed a big rivalry win for Tucson High, the night before his 18th birthday.

In the ensuring euphoria, his school?s fans stormed the court and the talents Kay had taken for granted were gone in an instant. He was thrown to the floor and suffered a torn carotid artery and a stroke, leaving him paralyzed on the right side.

Kay?s story was featured in a story on ?Outside the Lines? on ESPN.

The unusual aspect of his story is that he was on the winning team and he got hurt. Usually we think only players on the losing team are at risk.

Kay isn?t completely opposed to court-storming, although after watching some court-storming situations, he?s amazed more people aren?t hurt.

?It?s perfectly fine to celebrate,? said Kay, but ?maybe they need to rein it in and give it more structure and take into account the safety of everyone.?

There doesn?t appear to be a clear-cut answer for dealing with a spontaneous court-storming, but it?s time for game management at the high school, college and pro basketball level to be prepared for handling such a scenario.

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