January 13, 2014 • From the BenchWinning Hoops

Rushing the court poses too many risks

by Kevin Hoffman, Managing Editor

But Utah Valley’s upset victory over New Mexico State this season showed us why we should consider a universal ban on court storming. It’s dangerous and unpredictable, and if allowed to continue it’s only a matter of time until someone is seriously hurt.

It wasn’t always like this. Court storming used to be one of the treasured celebrations in basketball, triggered only by a victory so unlikely that dancing on the hardwood seemed reasonable. But today it’s overused, consequently diminishing its allure.

The Utah Valley-New Mexico State game brought out the worst in these intimate postgame traditions. A New Mexico State player threw the ball at one of his opponents as the buzzer sounded and spectators rushed the court. Tensions quickly flared and punches were exchanged between players and fans.

The game at Utah Valley wasn’t the only incident this season involving a fan. Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart shoved a spectator, allegedly prompted by a derogatory comment. During a game against UC Santa Barbara, Hawaii men’s coach Gib Arnold was confronted by a fan who ran onto the court during stoppage and screamed in his face. The fan was arrested.

The good news is nobody was badly injured. But if we don’t begin improving security and setting boundaries between fans and the teams they love, it’s only a matter of time before something tragic takes place.

These precautions are already in place at the professional level, but until recently we never really considered them necessary for college sports. But college athletics have evolved from amateurism into a billion dollar industry, regardless of whether anyone is willing to admit it. A number of college athletes are held in the same high regard as professionals, so the time has come to make changes.

These measures could come in the form of security or penalties for schools that fail to control their fans (a policy already in place with some conferences). Programs must show they’re serious about protecting spectators, players and coaches. Putting some restrictions in place is a good start.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is among those calling for changes to on-court celebrations, and it doesn’t help that his program’s reputation prompts students to storm the court after nearly every road loss.

“When we’ve lost in the last 20 years, everybody rushes the court, Krzyzewski said after losing to Virginia late this season. Whatever you’re doing, you need to get the team off first. Celebrate, have fun, obviously you won. That’s cool, but just get our team off the court and our coaching staff before students come on.”

That seems like one of the most obvious and simplest fixes to the whole debacle, as protecting the visiting team is the biggest priority. It doesn’t, however, spare students who get trampled during the fracas, which is why a uniform ban might be more desirable.

What’s certain is action must be taken. Until then, college athletes and coaches continue to be vulnerable.