March 4, 2013

Storming the court part of college basketball, despite some concerns

Duke coach raises concerns about fans storming the court, but Big 12 coaches seem mixed on the subject.

TCU’s improbable upset of then-No. 5 Kansas on Feb. 6 will be forever etched in the memories of those on hand to bear witness, especially for the Horned Frogs students.

When fans rushed the court that night at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum, it was mostly students who were high-fiving TCU coach Trent Johnson and hugging Frogs players.

The win, called the biggest upset in 20 years by one national college expert, was as legitimate a reason for a spontaneous show of emotion that one could dream up. Thus, no one thought twice about TCU fans storming the court in celebration. The celebration fit the moment.

But last week, after Virginia upset Duke for the first time in eight tries (the Cavaliers’ first win over a top 5 team since 2002) maybe a court-storming wasn’t as appropriate. Virginia has won 20 games and is 10-6 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has lost so infrequently the past 32 years that any time his team loses on the road a fan stampede is inevitable.

It’s a high compliment to his program that wins elicit such strong reactions from opposing fan bases.

But Krzyzewski complained that his team should have been helped off the court before fans had a chance to surround them on the floor. He exchanged shouts with at least one Virginia fan, according to numerous reports, but Krzyzewski said that wasn’t his beef.

“I’ve been called more things — about my mother or my kids — that’s something that’s happened for 25 years,” he said. “That means nothing. Safety is something, and that’s what I’m talking about.”

Kansas players and coaches made it off the court smoothly when TCU fans started making their way out of the stands. With about a minute remaining, the school had its campus police chief assemble security toward the KU bench to help usher them safely off the court, TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte said.

“At the moment we knew we were going to beat Kansas we had our police escort make sure they were not in harm’s way,” Del Conte said. “Our police department did a wonderful job escorting Kansas into the tunnel in a timely fashion in anticipation of fans rushing the court.”

No one has been hurt in the handful of court-storming scenes this season, but Krzyzewski’s concerns are shared by others, including Johnson.

Johnson includes the proliferation of social media, including Twitter and Facebook, as potential match sticks in escalating tensions between opposing fans and players, perhaps creating an on-the-court confrontation.

“I think it’s just a matter of time before something happens and somebody gets hurt,” said Johnson, who has never witnessed an ugly court-storming incident but has seen moments “on the verge. I’ve been on both sides of that thing a little bit. I think we need to be proactive.”

As a general safety precaution, assistant Brent Scott is the last TCU coach off the floor to make sure no postgame words escalate between TCU players and another team or its fans.

“It’s just a matter of time when you look at what’s going on now with Twitter and Facebook and kids start saying something that could rile up [players],” he said. “I think there’s a responsibility, first and foremost with the institutions, to make sure the visiting team is taken care of.”

Coaches such as Oklahoma State’s Travis Ford and Baylor’s Scott Drew have a less jaded view of the potential problems arising from court rushing, as long the opposing team remains safe.

“I don’t see a problem with it, I really don’t,” Ford said. “I understand a lot of the concerns but you could start getting into a lot of other stuff as well. I think it’s an exciting time for the fans. The interaction for the fans to be a part of the game, I think it’s an exciting part of college basketball. I think there could be a plan in place so you’d be able to do both.”

As Drew built up the Baylor program, Bears fans were the ones storming the court to celebrate momentous wins, he said. Either way, Drew said, he’s never seen a player injured as a result.

“In the last five years or so it’s been other teams that have rushed the floor,” Drew said. “But that’s what makes college basketball so exciting, especially at the end of the game when all the adrenaline and emotions take over. I think every school does a good job in trying to control things.”

Other coaches who have been around longer, such as Texas’ Rick Barnes and West Virginia’s Bob Huggins — two coaches who have been on the losing end of a court-storming because of their success — make no bones about their disdain for it.

When he was at Cincinnati, Huggins said the school had a policy forbidding court-storming. Both he and Barnes say, for them, it comes down to wanting their teams and fans “to act like you’ve won before.”

“I didn’t ever want our guys to ever think [wins] were huge upsets,” Barnes said. “I said act like you expected to win. When you score a basket, act like you expect it to go in.

“I’ve never liked it when players do the three signs, or fans are on the court. Because what you’re really doing, you’re really paying respect to the other team. More so than you’re celebrating a win, in some ways.

“I’m all for the spontaneous emotion during games, especially when it’s close, but I don’t think it’s a good thing. I don’t think there’s anything good that can come from fans coming onto the floor after a game because emotions are high in a lot of situations and someone inadvertently can come out and [antagonize a losing player].”

A postgame altercation between a fan and one of his players when he was at Providence has also cooled Barnes to the notion of fans storming the floor.

“I’m not one for it because I’ve seen some things happen that aren’t good for the game and shouldn’t come into it,” he said. “What good could come from it?”

For TCU students in the middle of the mob Feb. 6, at least, long-lasting, wonderful memories.

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