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Mon, May 20

Kobritz: Rushing the court is stupid
BEYOND THE LINES

Storming the court might seem like a harmless “tradition,” a fun and exciting way to celebrate a victory. It isn’t.

No one knows for certain when the tradition began, but despite efforts by some to eliminate it, the sophomoric behavior continues. What’s the point? Fans may think they’re an integral part of a team’s success, but the fact is no fan has ever made a basket or scored a touchdown. Fans should celebrate from the stands and let the players share their moment of glory on the field of play.

Lest you think the comments above are overly strict or unnecessary, perhaps you should ask those who have been injured from such activity - fans, athletes and coaches - to weigh in. Twenty-five years ago, more than five dozen fans were injured after Wisconsin beat Michigan on the gridiron for the first time in more than a decade. Although no one died, at least 10 people were unconscious and had stopped breathing when rescuers reached them.

Fifteen years ago, Arizona high school student Joe Kay suffered a torn carotid artery and a stroke after being thrown to the court during a melee that followed his game-winning dunk. Kay was initially paralyzed on his right side and while he learned how to walk and talk again, he’s never regained the use of his right hand.

Four years ago, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self was pinned against the scorer’s table when a mob of Kansas State fans flooded the court.

Last month when Minnesota fans stormed the court after the Golden Gophers upset Purdue, denying the Boilermakers the outright Big Ten title, a Minnesota fan flipped off Purdue’s 7-foot-3, 250-pound center, Matt Haarms, while he was trying to leave the court. Fortunately for the fan, Haarms retained his composure after the heartbreaking loss. But what if he hadn’t?

Some administrators have pleaded for the behavior to stop, while others encourage it in the name of “school spirit,” as coaches and administrators did when I taught at the University of Wyoming. Several conferences, including the Southeastern Conference (SEC), have tried to discourage fans from rushing the court. The SEC fines schools $50,000 for a first offense, $100,000 for a second and $250,000 for a third. Alas, not everyone gets the message. South Carolina President Harris Pastides gleefully participated when his students stormed the court after a Gamecocks win over Kentucky five years ago. “Once I realized I was paying (the fine) anyway, I ran down,” Pastides told The Daily Gamecock. “I enjoyed every dollar.” Shame on him.

The NCAA takes measures to prohibit fans from storming the field of play during its championships, which is why you’re unlikely to see it during March Madness. But the governing body needs to be proactive when it comes to regularly scheduled games. Stiff fines and suspensions, including banning violators from tournaments, are bound to get a school’s attention.

There’s nothing romantic about fans stampeding onto the field of play. It’s time to curtail the dangerous practice before another person is seriously injured.

Jordan Kobritz is a non-practicing attorney and CPA, former Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog, sportsbeyondthelines.com. The opinions contained in this column are the author’s. Kobritz can be reached by email at jordan.kobritz@cortland.edu.

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