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In the Wake of Another Collision, Should Court-Storming Be Banned?

SportIn the Wake of Another Collision, Should Court-Storming Be Banned?

By Brendan Marks, Dana O’Neil and Nicole Auerbach

The floodgates burst before the final buzzer sounded.

Although, given the record crowd inside Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, maybe that shouldn’t have been a surprise. Nearly 15,000 Wake Forest fans had crammed into the building to watch their team take on No. 8 Duke — and, hopefully, to bear witness to a resume-affirming win, one that would solidify the Demon Deacons as an NCAA Tournament team. Imagine their excitement then, during the game’s final timeout with 1.8 seconds left, when they were on the precipice of an 83-79 home win.

That … and one cathartic, chaotic celebration.

When Duke’s subsequent inbounds pass was intercepted, it was all the signal students needed. Wake Forest fans immediately flooded the floor, sprinting to join the mosh pit forming at midcourt. One issue, though: Duke star Kyle Filipowski hadn’t gotten off the court before the celebration broke out — and multiple fans made contact with him while running at full speed. Filipowski appeared to get turned around, then injured, before a Duke manager reached him in the frenzy, forming a human barrier against the raging court storm. Soon other Duke staffers and players joined in, all protecting Filipowski as he limped off the floor.



Duke star Kyle Filipowski hurt as Wake Forest fans rush court

By the time Duke coach Jon Scheyer made it to his postgame press conference, he was fuming.

“When are we going to ban court-storming?” Scheyer asked. “Like, how many times does a player have to get into something, where they get punched or they get pushed or they get taunted right in their face? It’s a dangerous thing.”

In the wake of a second high-profile athlete-fan collision in about a month — Iowa star Caitlin Clark was knocked down on Jan. 21, after Ohio State upset Clark’s Hawkeyes — Scheyer’s question is being asked at every level of college athletics. Court storms have long been some of the most iconic visuals in college basketball, but they’ve increasingly come under fire for potential player safety concerns. “Who in their right mind,” Scheyer added, “can see that and say, yeah, that’s smart?” He isn’t alone in that sentiment. Which is why those in the basketball industry, from coaches to administrators to conference executives, now must answer the following:

Can a time-honored tradition be preserved with tweaks … or is it time to ban court storms once and for all?

“There’s a difference between trying to stop court-storming and trying to prevent injury,” Butler athletic director Barry Collier said. “I’d prefer we chase the latter of those two, and then I think we’d be in a better place.”

This is not the first time there’s been public — or private — backlash to court-storming. It’s been an ongoing discussion amongst college basketball’s shareholders for decades.

In 2004, the debate ignited after Arizona high schooler Joe Kay was accidentally trampled during a court storm; Kay suffered a stroke and torn carotid artery, which partially paralyzed his right side. In 2013, NC State’s C.J. Leslie had to lift a wheelchair-bound fan (who had fallen out of his chair during a court storm) away from the crowd to protect him. Then in 2015, Kansas State fans nearly trampled Kansas coach Bill Self after an upset home win over the Jayhawks. (In that same incident, a student threw an elbow at Kansas forward Jamari Taylor, and a KU assistant coach put another fan in a headlock.)

After No. 1 Purdue lost at Nebraska on Jan. 9 — and endured a now-common court storm — Boilermakers coach Matt Painter sounded off. “Someone’s gonna get hurt,” Painter said, almost prophetically. “Could be a student. Could be one of (the opponent’s) guys. Could be one of our guys. Could be someone working the scorer’s bench. Could be anybody — but I don’t know why people don’t get ahead of it. It’s happened a lot, and I just don’t understand that.” Now after incidents to Clark and Filipowski — two of the higher-profile players in their respective games — there’s a renewed push for change.

But will anything come of this?

Regardless of which side of the court-storming argument you fall on — whether you think they deserve to be protected as part of the student/fan experience, or if you think they’re too dangerous and should be banned — the logistical questions surrounding them are tough entry points to change. For example: How do you enforce a ban on court storms, if such a thing were to ever pass? “It’s very difficult to stop mass stampede,” Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said. “Some of the security experts may even tell you in some cases, it’s safer to get out of the way than to create a worse situation.”

Many leagues mandate that their schools provide safety plans before sporting events, as a precautionary measure, but effectively enforcing those is hit-or-miss. (What good, in some cases, is a thin rope going to do in quelling a mob of young adults?) Certain conferences also enforce disciplinary measures, like fines, to disincentivize the practice. Beginning with the 2023-24 athletic calendar, for instance, the SEC moved to a multi-tiered fine system: $100,000 for first-time offenses, $250,000 for the second time, and $500,000 for any subsequent incidents.

Thus far, though, those haven’t been effective deterrents; the league just fined LSU $100,000 for its court storm following last week’s buzzer-beating win over Kentucky. (The ACC is the only high-major league that does not fine teams for court storming.) Boosters or fans starting GoFundMe accounts have paid many of those fines; the actual court-stormers — mostly students — face no real penalties, unlike those unruly fans who are tackled and often arrested when they run onto the field during pro games.

“They’re almost a badge of honor for those who rush the court,” Collier said of the fines.

More serious punishments have also been considered, but failed to gain serious traction.

“What if you make the home team forfeit the game, because their fans rushed the field or court? We certainly talked about that,” said Jeremy Hammond, the associate SEC commissioner who headed the league’s working group on event security. “But I don’t think there was an appetite, at our office or amongst our membership and their leadership, to punish the student-athletes in that manner for something they weren’t involved in and have no control over … That’s where that sort of died on the vine.”

What options are realistically available, then, to prevent these situations from recurring?

One common-sense starting point is better communication with the people involved: the fans. When Kansas State coach Jerome Tang took over before last season, he told the Wildcats’ fan base they got one court storm for the season. “If you want to build a championship culture and expectation, you’ve got to do the actions before the championships come,” Tang said. “So I told them, hey, you got the one court storming — but from here on out, let’s expect to win.” Earlier this season, the Wildcats were on the verge of beating top-10 rival Kansas, and Tang was uncertain if fans still planned to rush the floor. So he and his staff waved them down before the final buzzer and asked that students not do it.

Their response?

They … actually listened. Instead, Tang sent his players up into the stands to celebrate with their peers.

“I just feel like it’s better for us to go celebrate with them in the stands,” Tang added, “than for them to go running out on the court.”

There’s no reason that sort of communication can’t happen everywhere. Wake Forest coach Steve Forbes said Saturday night, in the wake of his team’s victory, that he anticipates the school and its fans will handle the next such situation better. “I don’t like court-stormings – never have been a part of those before,” Forbes said. “As a coach, they just don’t feel safe.”

Creighton fans rush the floor after last week’s upset win over No. 1 UConn. (Steven Branscombe / USA Today)

That brings up another popular talking point, especially following the Filipowski incident: What is a coach’s role in all this? When Kansas was about to lose at Kansas State, for instance, Self pulled his players off the court with several seconds left, as a way to preemptively avoid any problems. “I said, OK, guys, game’s over,” Self said. “Throw it in bounds, everybody run to the sideline.” Scheyer said after Saturday’s game that down with his team down by four points, he still had hope of salvaging a win. “In retrospect,” he said, “I wish I would’ve gotten those guys off the court. So I let them down in that respect.”

Tang said that just as he has one assistant coach monitor a team’s fouls, in the future, you might need another assistant monitoring a potential court storm. But it’s a fine line between competition and safety.

Plus, that sort of preparation also isn’t applicable in every situation. True buzzer-beaters, for instance, don’t have any build-up time. They happen spontaneously, the raw joy of one triumphant moment washing over a crowd at once. “While you probably can mark your schedule when things are likely to happen, you don’t know when it’s going to happen,” Collier said. “You have to have a backup plan.” And that’s why, as much as communication is key, it does come back to a school’s specific game plan.

The standard at most high-major schools is for security guards or other safety personnel to string a rope around the court (or a portion of it) postgame to deter would-be stormers. The most-prepared schools, like Kansas State, even practice their postgame procedure the day before, according to Kansas State athletic director Gene Taylor. “Before the big games,” Taylor added, “that might be a court storming.” Sometimes, those security folks move in conjunction with a public announcement, or a relayed message to those leading a student section. But at the same time, multiple people in the industry lament the unreasonable financial and personnel costs associated with protecting against court storms for every single game — not to mention the potential problems of overzealous security guards or students rushing right at them.

“It’s really complicated to have enough people to hold back a crowd like that,” Collier said. “We’ve had enough people before, but the general policy has been don’t create another physical altercation between security guards and the students. We’re talking about students here.”

Wake Forest, for example, entered Saturday as the betting favorite over Duke, and had its first sellout in seven seasons. It’s easier to predict court storms in situations like that, but should schools bear the financial burden of additional staffing for every single game?

“I think schools should be prepared, regardless of whether or not they know,” Self said. “You don’t hire less people because you think it might not happen. You should hire the same amount of people all the time.”

That’s also easier to say at high-major schools with more resources. For mid-major leagues, the ones reliant on auto-bids to make the NCAA Tournament, it’s less feasible to make that financial commitment for every big-time opponent that comes to town.

Storming the court has developed into a tradition, a way for fans to mark big upsets or special occasions. They get shown all over “SportsCenter” and on social media. It happens in football, too, though there’s much more real estate on a football field — where players are already wearing protective gear — than on the confines of a 94-foot basketball court. In some ways, these scenes are what differentiate college sports from the pros.

“People are trying to strike a balance between how do we not remove some of the fanfare and some of the great things about collegiate sports, what comes with an underdog taking down a team that they weren’t supposed to be — and balancing that against making sure everybody’s safe,” Hammond said. “It’s a tough challenge.”

Filipowski, his right leg wrapped in plastic and an ice pack on his knee, told reporters that he sprained his knee in the commotion. Duke doesn’t play again until Wednesday, when it hosts ACC cellar-dweller Louisville. Scheyer declined to comment on Sunday about his star player’s status.

But the sophomore forward, who leads Duke in scoring and rebounding, made clear his feelings on how things played out.

“I absolutely feel like it was personal,” Filipowski told reporters. “They didn’t do anything to stop it. That’s just ridiculous.”

Ultimately, it is the home school’s responsibility to protect not only its players, but opposing ones and officials. Wake Forest athletic director John Currie — who was also Kansas State’s AD in 2015, for the aforementioned incident with Kansas — said in a statement that while the program had a plan in place for any postgame celebration, “we clearly must do better.”

“I am in complete agreement that something more must be done about the national phenomenon of court and field storming,” the statement continued, “and Wake Forest looks forward to being a part of those conversations.”

We’ll see if those conversations ever actually lead to action.

It’s hard to stop the floodgates when they’re already open.

The Athletic’s CJ Moore contributed to this story.

(Top photo of Wake Forest fans storming the court after Saturday’s win over Duke: Grant Halverson / Getty Images)


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