They’re not gonna keep ’em off the field tonight! – Rod Bramblett
The wild, wacky, impossible-to-figure college basketball season continued on Wednesday night with ninth-ranked Arizona’s loss to Colorado. But we’re still talking about it two days later, and not for the right reasons.
You can watch the end of the game here, but this is the important part: Colorado’s students stormed the court and Sean Miller, Arizona’s head coach, complained about it. A lot.
This is what he had to say:
I have no problem being a great sport, but eventually what’s going to happen in the Pac-12 is this: An Arizona player is going to punch a fan, and they are going to punch the fan out of self-defense. And only when it happens will everyone take a deep breath and say, ‘We have to do something to protect both teams.’
I don’t like whining in sports, but I particularly don’t like whining from coaches. I don’t appreciate it because it often detracts attention from the game itself. In this case, though, Miller absolutely has a point and his comments reflect a greater concern in college sports about player and fan safety during field and court stormings.
So what precedent does Miller have for his comments and frustration?
The public debate about rushing the court and field was, at least in part, brought about by legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. After an upset loss at Virginia in 2013, this is what Coach K said about the fans’ rushing to the center to the floor; see if you can find the similarities between his comments and Miller’s:
Look, do you know how close you are to — just put yourself in the position of one of our players or coaches. I’m not saying any fan did this, but the potential is there all the time for a fan to just go up to you and say, ‘Coach you’re a [expletive],’ or push you or hit you. And what do you do? What if you did something? That would be the story. We deserve that type of protection.
Both coaches were and are right here. Player, coach, and fan safety is a huge issue when thousands of fans are rushing to the same place at once; it would still be an issue if only a hundred students rushed at the same time, so you can only imagine the risks involved in having this occur on such a frequent basis with so many people involved. It’s almost like America’s equivalent of the Running of the Bulls. The only caveat here, though, is that Pamplona is not just the location of the rush in our country; it’s a tradition, a way of college sports life, and a near-nightly occurrence.
However, since rushing the court is such a tradition, how can we still have it happen and also make it safer for all involved? It’s not nearly as complicated as you think.
First of all, there should always (always) be more than a sufficient amount of security at these games. The reason I say this is because I watched the video of the end of the Arizona-Colorado game about four times over, purely in an attempt to find security guards and/or an organized security force. I found neither of these things, which, quite simply, is nothing short of horrifying. Besides from the fact that security would’ve been really helpful in organizing the student rush, the point of having security guards is to answer to conflicts in the stands that invariably spring up over the course of a game. Because of the lack of security presence, there was no control over anything going on the stands; what if something far, far worse had happened that night? Thankfully, nothing else did. But it could have.
Anyway, these security guards would be deployed to line the front of the student section to make sure the court storming is orderly and safe. This would occur when it is clearly established that the upset could occur (well before the game is over).
The other thing that I noticed from the end of the Colorado game is that the rush of the court was nothing more than a moshpit in the stands, with students pushing and shoving one another to get down to the court. With this, there is obviously the risk of people getting caught underneath the pile and suffering serious injury. By using the rule of common sense (rocket science, right?), the students could use space in front of the student section, if it is available, to stand for the final minutes of the game. That way, there won’t be any issues with students pushing from the back to get to the front.
The final piece of the puzzle that must occur before the storming is that all players, coaches, referees, and anyone else who could be at risk of injury must leave the floor. Until this takes place, absolutely no student should be allowed to set foot on the floor or field. This goes back to the gripes of Miller and Coach K: with this plan, players won’t need to punch fans out of self-defense; they won’t be able to.
After everyone leaves, the students can rush. They must do so in a safe manner (obviously) but once the rush starts, it’ll basically be the same court/field storming we’ve come to know and love. Yes, some of the spontaneity will be lost, but it is way more important to protect everyone than to have sports’ equivalent of the release of the latest iPhone on a nightly basis.
With all of these being said, when will we see any proposal like this actually be put into effect? Miller voiced concern for the fact that the Pac-12 has done little to nothing to fix this problem, but it isn’t like the NCAA has done very much to rectify this, either. Think about the NCAA as the national government of the United States and each conference as the states of the Union. While states’ rights are a vital piece of the governing puzzle in this country, there are some matters in which the national government simply has to supersede the states. In this case, the NCAA has to flex its power over the conferences (especially the major ones) and create a policy that is fair and just to all parties involved. If and when they do, college sports will be a better place. But don’t hold your breath waiting for it; this is, after all, the NCAA we’re dealing with.
This is my proposal to help coaches, players, and fans stay safe in the event of a storming. It isn’t perfect; nothing in sports is. But it is a step to rectify the problem that is the
Running of the Bulls storming of the field or court. It would keep everyone safe and the students would still get the most out of this truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.
However, no matter what is wrong or right with this proposal, we can all agree that something needs to be done about this disaster. Because that’s what it is; an unabated disaster that could lead to far more serious problems in the future.
And until something is done about this unabated disaster, we’ll see more ugly scenes like the one we saw in Boulder on Wednesday night.