Cumberland Times-News

Local Sports

March 1, 2013

Fan celebrations taking center court this season

With so many upsets in college basketball, there seems to be daily highlights of fans storming the court to celebrate.

No team has separated itself from the pack and there have been 15 instances when top-five teams in the Associated Press Top 25 poll lost to unranked squads on the road, according to STATS LLC.

That’s led to a lot of postgame mayhem — and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said it’s not all fun and games when it happens.

He would know. His third-ranked Blue Devils have lost on the road to start court-storming celebrations four times this year, including Thursday when his team had to battle through the surge at Virginia. The coach said afterward that fans should celebrate, but the focus should be getting the visiting team off the court first.

“Put yourself in a position with one of our players or coaches,” Krzyzewski said. “I’m not saying anybody did this but the potential is there all the time for a fan to come up to you and say, ‘Coach, you’re a ... .” Or push you or hit you. What do you do? What if you did something? That would be the story, right? So we deserve that type of protection.”

There had been only seven instances in each of the past two seasons in which AP top-five teams lost to unranked teams on the road. But the past week has shown just how wild this season has been by comparison.

First No. 5 Miami — ranked No. 2 at the time — lost at Wake Forest last weekend. Then top-ranked Indiana lost at Minnesota on Tuesday. The next night, No. 4 Michigan fell to a Penn State team that was 0-14 in Big Ten play.

And in each of those cases, fans gathered around the edges of the court to count off the final seconds before charging in to celebrate at the sound of the horn.

While BCS conferences typically leave it to host schools to manage postgame celebrations, the Southeastern Conference fines its members when fans storm the court. The fines range from $5,000 for the first offense, $25,000 for the second and $50,000 for a third.

Karl Hicks, the ACC’s senior associate commissioner for men’s basketball, said his league doesn’t allow unauthorized personnel on the court before, during or after the game as a general rule. But the ACC doesn’t have a policy in place to fine or sanction a school if its fans rush the court.

In those moments, the first challenge for the host school is getting the officials and visiting team off the court safely and as quickly as possible.

“We do share best practices between and amongst schools, and advise where appropriate,” Hicks wrote in an email Friday.

Hicks also said he hadn’t received any complaints from Duke on Friday regarding the Virginia postgame rush, which created a bottleneck and stalled the Blue Devils as they tried to get to the tunnel and into the locker room as Cavaliers fans ran in.

Jon Jackson, an associate athletic director for media relations and public affairs at Duke, wrote in an email that the university’s position is that “the safety of the players and coaches should be paramount at any venue.”

He declined to comment when asked whether Duke would file a complaint to the league about anything that happened at Virginia or bring up court storming for discussion at offseason ACC meetings.

As the horn sounded, Virginia security staff wearing yellow jackets formed a line where the teams were shaking hands, while other security staff escorted the Blue Devils to the tunnel on the way to the locker room where the brief delay occurred.

Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage said Friday it took about a minute from those handshakes until Duke arrived in its locker room. Littlepage said he felt arena staff “did a very good job” of managing the situation Thursday night, down to an announcement discouraging fans from rushing the court.

“I know having been in that situation as a player and as a coach, you feel an urgency to want to get to the locker room,” Littlepage said. “I understand that, but the key is to make sure that you get to the locker room safely so there are decisions made to ensure the safety and to make sure that there are no interactions that could lead to somebody being hassled verbally, physically hassled, that sort of thing.”

At Penn State on Wednesday night, an arena official had ushers go down to the floor to be ready and make sure Michigan coaches and players were able to leave without incident. The school said the potential of fans rushing the court is monitored and discussed, especially before games of note, and that the safety of visiting coaches and players is a priority.

North Carolina State coach Mark Gottfried has been on both sides this year.

His team had to make its way off the court after losses at Maryland and Wake Forest. N.C. State also savored a home win against then-No. 1 Duke in January with its own court storming fans — though that celebration led to a fan in a wheelchair being knocked to the floor and Wolfpack junior C.J. Leslie having to get him back in his wheelchair amid the chaos.

Gottfried said Friday he hopes the ACC “never, ever bans storming the court” as was done in the SEC, where Gottfried coached at Alabama.

“Yeah, I think it can be times (where) you might run into a tricky situation,” Gottfried said. “I think that’s possible. But I think when you turn on the television around the country and you see fans storm the court if a top team or a No. 1 team in the country gets beat or a good team, I think it adds to the college game — the atmosphere, being a student.

“So I’m hopeful that our league never adopts what the SEC did.”

Apparently no one in the ACC does, but there seems to be momentum building for some sort of compromise.

———

AP Sports Writers Genaro C. Armas in State College, Pa., and Hank Kurz in Charlottesville, Va., contributed to this report.

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