Storming Too Big a Risk
Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 01:02
The final buzzer sounds. The fans throw their arms in the air in one collective motion. A guttural cheer fills the arena. The players mob each other on the court.
The greatest thrill in sports is watching your team emerge victorious after a long, hard-fought game. It is human nature to want to join with the players in their triumph and celebrate a victory that may soon become legend. This desire is especially strong in college athletics, where players and students are united by classrooms, dining halls and house parties. The result: thousands of fans streaming from the stands to the court to partake in a mosh pit of celebratory exhilaration following a win. This may sound like the fairytale ending to every sports story.
Storming the court. Rushing the field. Invading the pitch. No matter the name, these traditions are not only flawed — they are dangerous.
A celebration that used to be reserved for huge upsets and championship victories, storming the court now happens with such regularity that the act has lost its true character and magnitude. If baseball teams celebrated with champagne showers in the locker room after every win, then popping the bubbly after winning the division championship would be meaningless. The same holds true for storming the court.
College fan bases have forgotten that very few victories warrant this type of celebration. A prime example of this was when Duke fans tried to storm the court following their school’s victory over North Carolina two weeks ago. One cannot deny that the teams are bitter rivals, but the No. 2-ranked Blue Devils were heavily favored to defeat the unranked Tar Heels, and Duke prevailed by only five points. The Tar Heels showed up to play, while Duke looked sloppy. This was a victory that called for Duke fans to heave a huge sigh of relief and go home, not to try and storm the court. Yet try they did. The Cameron Crazies began swarming the court as the final seconds ticked off the game clock, only to see an annoyed Mike Krzyzewski angrily waving his arms, clearly signaling for the students to get off the court. He, at least, knew that this game did not warrant a court storm, rivalry or no rivalry. The students shamefacedly made their way back to their seats, and Coach K’s legendary influence further cemented its place in college basketball lore.
There are some games when storming the court truly is an honest expression of fans’ joy over watching their team win a statement game against a higher-ranked opponent, however. When the Maryland Terrapins beat Duke 83-81 at home Feb. 16, Terps fans flowed like water onto the court, a sea of red and yellow.
As a Maryland native and Terps fan, I was ecstatic about the win, but I was an anxious mess watching the thousands of students (some of them my friends) pack onto the court. My anxiety stemmed from more than just fearfulness of large crowds; it was from knowing personally just how quickly these celebrations can turn from jubilant to traumatic.
My twin sister rushed the field after the Virginia football team upset Georgia Tech in the Cavaliers’ 2011 homecoming game. She was caught in a crowd, pushed down, trampled and unable to stand up. Crushed under a pile of bodies, she could not breathe. Fortunately, a friend was finally able to extricate her from the heap. Had he not been there, I do not like to think of what might have happened.
Though injured and shaken, my sister was lucky. There have been many others who were not.
In 2004, Joe Kay was a star high-school basketball player from Tucson on the eve of his 18th birthday. After his team won a game against a rival school, fans swarmed Kay, and, in the commotion, his carotid artery was severed, causing a stroke that left him paralyzed on his left side. Kay would never play basketball again.
Then there’s the case of Richard Rose, a student at the University of Minnesota-Morris who died from head trauma he sustained while rushing the football field after his school secured a double overtime homecoming victory in 2005.
Tragedies like these are rare, but even one is one too many.
Though some conferences, such as the SEC, ban court- storming and levy hefty fines at schools whose students leave the stands, the NCAA itself has no rules against this type of celebration. If this rash of court-storming persists and the trend of students running onto courts (or fields) continues to increase, it is only a matter of time before the number of injuries, and even deaths, rises as well.
On March 9, the Georgetown basketball team will host Syracuse at the Verizon Center for the last time as Big East rivals, and already there has been discussion about postgame court-storming prospects. Now I’m as excited for the game as the next Hoya fan, not only because of the tremendous history between these two schools but also because this game marks the end of an era.
Georgetown students haven’t stormed the court in years, and if there were to be a game after which storming would be appropriate, this would be it. If Georgetown wins, I will understand if fans rush the court.
But I won’t join them.
Laura Wagner is a sophomore in the College. GAME OF CHANGE appears every Tuesday.