By: Katherine Tohanczyn on March 19, 2014

 

When it comes to college basketball, fans know how to show their loyalty.  Students don their school’s colors, paint the

Photo Credit:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/32862893@N04/

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/32862893@N04/

ir faces, and cheer until they have no voice left.  If the home team pulls off an unexpected victory, many times the excitement and euphoria among these students boils over and students storm the court.

Generally, storming the court – when fans rush onto the court to celebrate with the team immediately following the end of a game – results in nothing more than some spilled drinks and stepped-on toes.  However, recent incidents have exposed the potential for more serious injuries to fans and athletes alike.  For example, last year a disabled North Carolina State student was nearly trampled on the court after his wheelchair was tipped over by fans rushing around him.[1]  More recently, a fight erupted between New Mexico State players and Utah Valley fans who stormed the court following an exciting overtime win.[2]

These examples demonstrate two risks that can lead to injury during a court storming.  First, there is the inherent risk associated with thousands of passionate fans rushing toward the court in a stampede.  This risk increases when fans continue to jump around and push their way through an approximately 4,700 square feet of court space.  At first, this celebration is thrilling but after several minutes, it quickly becomes dangerous and frightening as everyone tries to remain upright.[3]

Second, the hostility between fans and opposing players increases the potential for violence greatly during court storming.  Earlier this season, Oklahoma State player Marcus Smart rushed into the stands and pushed a fan who was directing derogatory comments at him.[4]  Smart and the fan were quickly separated, but when thousands of fans storm the court, it is nearly impossible for security to maintain order.  The Smart incident demonstrates how resentment between a zealous fan and a young student-athlete creates the increased potential for violence.  Allowing thousands of fans, full of passion that has been building throughout an entire game, to gather around student-athletes who are upset over a hard-fought loss in an uncontrollable environment increases the potential for violence.

Storming the court is a dangerous celebration that places individuals at risk of physical injury, thereby placing schools at risk for liability.  In the context of a basketball game, fans, athletes, and officials are invitees of the host school.  Therefore, the schools, as owners of the premises, owe a duty of care to protect both fans and athletes from foreseeable injuries by third parties.  Schools should not wait to be sued by a fan or official who is trampled in the chaos of celebration.  Nor should schools wait to be sued by an athlete whose season and future draft prospects have been cut short because he could not safely get off the court before hostile fans surrounded him.  Instead, schools should take reasonable precautions to prevent storming the court celebrations.

Some individuals urge schools and conferences to follow the Southeastern Conference (SEC) who banned students from storming the courts at basketball games in 2004.  Schools that fail to restrain their fans face a $5,000 fine for a first offense, a $25,000 fine for a second offense, and a $50,000 fine for all subsequent offenses.[5]  However, SEC members only account for 14 out of 347 NCAA Division I men’s basketball teams and, to date, no other conference has followed the SEC’s lead in punishing court storming.

The other NCAA Division I basketball conferences have generally taken the approach that incidents, such as the New Mexico State brawl, are the exception and not the rule.  Therefore, the celebration remains acceptable as “a moment of euphoric catharsis for students who pay thousands of dollars for the right to be there.”[6]  Furthermore, even some administrators at SEC schools have joined in the fun.  For example, earlier this season, South Carolina President, Harris Pastides, joined fans on the court following South Carolina’s win over Kentucky, who was ranked seventeen in the nation according to AP polls. Following the incident, Pastides stated, “[o]nce I realized I was paying [the fine] anyway, I ran down . . . I enjoyed every dollar.”[7]

As the response of Pastides demonstrates, fines may not be a completely effective deterrent.  However, when coaches speak, fans listen.  Last year, Duke University’s head basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski, held up his arms and yelled for fans, who were preparing to storm the court, to return to their seats after Duke defeated rival North Carolina; the fans obeyed.[8]  Similarly, athletic directors and coaches can also convince the leaders of the student section not to storm the court but rather celebrate from their seats or outside of the arena.

Schools may also impose harsher penalties for fans caught storming the court such as revoking a fan’s privilege to attend future games or instructing security to arrest fans that make it onto the court.  While enhanced security measures will never be adequate to punish everyone who storms the court, the potential for such penalties could provide an added deterrent effect.

Schools must protect student-athletes, staff, fans, and officials.  Athletic directors must be pragmatic and reassess the risk of injury to someone who has come to play, coach, officiate, or watch the game and the potential liability that such an injury could create.  Storming the court may be a time-honored tradition but perhaps it is time for a new, less dangerous celebratory practice to begin.

 


[1]. See Thomas Lake, A Court-Storming and the Player Who Saved the Man in a Wheelchair, Sports Illustrated (Jan. 24, 2013), http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/college-basketball/news/20130124/n-c-state-will-privette/ (explaining how disabled student was pushed onto court during storm then knocked out of wheelchair and had to picked up by student-athlete); see also Tom Weir, Playboy Model Was Injured When Hoosier Fans Stormed Court, USA Today (Dec. 14, 2011, 1:27 PM), http://content.usatoday.com/communitie s/gameon/post/2011/12/playboy-model-was-injured- when-hoosier-fans-stormed-court/1#.UxquvfldWnE (discussing how playboy model sprained her ankle after she was knocked to ground by fans rushing onto the court).

[2]. See Thomas Barrabi, College Basketball Fans Storm Court, Players Fight After Overtime Game [Video], Int’l Bus. Times.Com (Feb. 28, 2014, 9:23 AM), http://www.ibtimes.com/utah-valley-new-mexico-state-brawl-college-basketball-fans-storm-court-players-fight-after-overtime (discussing events that lead several New Mexico State players and several Utah Valley fans to fight in court-storming celebration); see also Tyler Conway, New Mexico State vs. Utah Valley Ends in Fight as Fans Storm Court After Game, BleacherReport.com (Feb. 28, 2014), http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1976411-new-mexico-state-vs-utah-valley-ends-in-fight-as-fans-storm-court-after-game (“[I]t mostly consisted of pushing and shoving, though there were multiple punches thrown.”).

[3]. See Jerry Ratcliffe, Duke Coach Criticizes Court Storming After Loss to UVA, Daily Progress (Mar. 1, 2013, 11:09 PM), http://www.dailyprogress.com/news/article_aa6b34ec-82da-11e2-8471-001a4bcf6878.html (quoting student involved in court storming as saying “I was excited at first, but then I started getting hot and started getting scared. I didn’t want anybody to tumble over me”).

[4]. See Dan Loumena, Marcus Smart Pushes Fan in Stands During Oklahoma Loss [Video], L.A. Times (Feb. 9, 2014, 4:35 AM), http://www.latimes.com/sports/sportsnow/la-sp-sn-marcus-smart-pushes-texas-tech-fan-20140208,0,686141.story#axzz2vINzdbtK (explaining circumstances that lead Smart to push fan).

[5]. See General Administration of Conference Competition, available at http://www.secdigitalnetwork.com/Portals/3/SEC%20Website/compliance/General%20Administration.pdf (last visited Mar. 7, 2014) (“For the safety of participants and spectators alike, at no time before, during or after a contest may spectators enter the competition area.”).  This rule also prevents students from “rushing the field” at football games.  See id.

[6]. Sam Eifling, Should You Storm the Court? An All-Purpose Guide, Deadpsin.com (Feb. 9, 2013, 6:05 PM), http://deadspin.com/5983084/should-you-storm-the-court-an-all-purpose-guide (arguing that court-storming is tradition that should continue for college students).

[7]. Raphielle Johnson, South Carolina President Harris Pastides Joins in on Court-Storming Fun, NBC Sports (Mar. 3, 2014, 12:07 AM), http://collegebasketballtalk.nbcsports.com/2014/03/03/south-carolina-president-harris-pastides-joins-in-on-court-storming-fun/ (quoting South Carolina’s President who joined fans on court after game).

[8]. See Tony Mangia, Coach K Stops Students from Rushing Court After Beating UNC, Yard Barker.com (Feb. 14, 2013, 9:43 AM), http://network.yardbarker.com/college_basketball/article_external/coach_k_stops_students_from_rushing_court_after_beating_unc/12915049?linksrc=story_article_yb_original_head_12915049 (“Duke beat North Carolina last night and, as the Cameron Crazies were ready to storm the court after another round of their interstate rivalry ticked down to 0.0, [Coach Krzyzewski] stopped them in their tracks.”).

 

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