Nostalgia is nice for a while, and then it gets old.
When the traditional way of engaging in an activity is revealed to be unsafe, it’s time to make changes. For instance, when I rode my bicycle as a kid, I never, ever wore a helmet, didn’t even own one. Kids in the 1970s and ‘80s (and before) would have looked at their parents like they had two heads if told to put on a helmet. And we turned out fine. (Most of us, anyway). Yet nowadays, I wouldn’t dare allow my two kids to zip around the neighborhood on their bikes without first strapping on those noggin-protecting lids. You’re the same way with your children.
Ditto for seat belts. Plenty of people ignored them for years, despite evidence that they saved lives. Now you can’t legally travel in a car unstrapped. Some cars automatically slide that belt around you.
Bike helmets, seat belt laws, smoke-free flights and restaurants — it’s all progress, under the umbrella of safety. It’s time to take that same rationale and apply it to court storming.
After Kansas State’s 70-63 upset of in-state rival Kansas Monday, a flood of K-State students and fans rushed the court at Bramlage Coliseum. In the process, Jayhawks coach Bill Self was briefly pinned up against the scorer’s table before wiggling his way free. Video replays showed one student taunting the Jayhawk players who hadn’t yet left the court, and another fan struck Kansas forward Jamari Traylor with a full-speed hip check before scurrying away.
It was a wild scene, and it could have been a lot worse. That very fact should serve as a red flag that court storming needs to be weeded out of college basketball altogether.
Label me as a party pooper if you must. I admit to being conflicted about the notion of erecting a stop sign to the bum rush of jubilation that follows many signature, upset wins. I’m conflicted because I was one of those kids, some 20 years ago.
One of my most vivid memories of following college hoops as a student was my own participation in a post-victory, on-court mosh pit. My school, Oklahoma Baptist University, was engaged in a huge conference clash against its bitter rival Oklahoma City University. OBU started sluggishly and fell behind by double digits by halftime, only to produce a dramatic rally in the second half. When the final horn sounded on a mesmerizing win by our beloved Bison, we students stormed the court, jumping and hugging and screaming, “Can you believe it?” in disbelief.
Somehow, by joining the players on the court, we felt more connected to the moment.
While most court storming displays are born out of spontaneous joy and revelry, it wouldn’t take much for such a scene to turn ugly, to become dangerous. By its nature, fans rushing the court is chaotic. Even if you know what you’re doing, you have no way of knowing what the hundreds of like-minded basket cases around you are doing. On the surface, it would seem that a basketball court would seem like a good place to filter a throng of humanity. Wide, open spaces, with the opportunity to scurry back into the stands if you so choose.
Invitation to tragedy
But when you put that many people in one place — quickly — with no plan, no order, it’s a recipe for disaster. When you’re caught in a sea of humanity, you’re at the mercy of the crowd. You don’t necessarily move as much as the crowd moves you. It’s the imperfect storm.
What if someone falls to the ground in that situation? A person could very easily be trampled to death. Or what if, similar to Self, someone were pinned against the scorer’s table to the point of asphyxiation? Suddenly the party devolves into a funeral.
I think it would be prudent for the NCAA and for individual conferences to set some court-storming rules now, before such a rash extreme unfolds. At the very least, schools should use security personnel to delay the rush until the opposing players and coaches have had a chance to leave the court.
But even that proposal doesn’t address the idea of protecting fans against themselves. That’s why I’d support an all-out court-storming ban. You step foot on the court, you’re under arrest. For the most part, that edict prevents people from entering the field of play during games, doesn’t it?
Again, I’m not anti-fun. Besides the college court-storming incident, I also joined thousands of other fans who filtered onto the baseball diamond at the Astrodome in 1997, when the Astros clinched their first postseason berth in 11 years. I’ll never forget that sensation of universal glee.
But would those games still mean something to me had I been unable to storm the court or the field? Would I still remember those moments? Absolutely.
Lesson of ‘Hillsborough’
The most frightening movie I watched last year wasn’t a slasher horror flick, but rather “Hillsborough,” one of ESPN’s acclaimed “30 for 30” documentaries. In raw, grisly detail, it told the story of the disaster at a Liverpool and Nottingham Forest soccer match in 1989, where 96 people died and more than 700 suffered injuries as a result of a human crush within the stadium. In the wake of the tragedy, it became clear that poor planning by stadium officials exacerbated the problem.
That’s why right now could be a seminal moment for the NCAA and for college basketball officials. Plan accordingly. Outlaw court-storming now, and perhaps a similar tragedy closer to home can be avoided.
Because the moment someone dies, the celebration ceases to be fun.