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Sunday, June 23, 2024

Storming the court

By Zak McCullar

​On Saturday, February 24th, Wake Forest’s pulled off a stunning, 83-79, victory over eighth-ranked Duke. The very instant the buzzer soundedat the end of the game, Demon Deacons’ fans leapt onto the playing surface and ran to the logo at midcourt. Caught right in the middle of this mad rush was Duke’s star player Kyle Filipowski. He tried to scurry away from the stampede, but was collided with by a Wake Forest studentinstead. Filipowski immediately winced and grabbed his knee. A couple of his teammates fought through the ranks of Wake students to rescue their injured comrade and successfully escorted a limping Kyle Filipowski to the locker room. 

For years, court storming has been a debated topic in college athletics. I, personally, am appalled by the idea of fans rushing the playing area at great risk to people who actually have the right to be on the playing area—not to mention the massive personal risk involved in such an activity. 

It’s too dangerous of a stunt to have around college athletics; that’s for sure. The incident with Filipowski and the Demon Deacons’ fan is just one example of this storming gone wrong. Back on January 21st, two incidents occurred following separate games. A Tulane fan reached out and tried to grab a fleeing Memphis player when the stands emptiedfollowing their men’s basketball game. On the women’s side, Ohio State fans crashed into the all-time scoring leader in NCAA basketball history, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, during a court storm there in Columbus. 

In a college football event closer to home, do you remember the fuss in 2022 about the field storming after Tennessee’s victory over Alabama? Tide wide receiver Jermaine Burton gave a Tennessee fan the clothesline as she ran onto the field postgame. Problems like the aforementioned happen a lot more than needed. Storming a playing area is something that needs to be banned immediately. 

Why can’t the NCAA do away with this hazardous celebration? Well, first off (and a little bit off-subject), the NCAA has really ceased to function as a governing body for collegiate athletics. Its lawsuit against the University of Tennessee for recruiting and NIL violations was recently thrown out because “everybody was doing it.” Pathetic! Schools can now sue and defeat the NCAA in any case that challenges their authority. If the NCAA tried to ban this mad storming, it probably wouldn’t hold up in court. 

Secondly, it’s very hard to pump wisdom into the head of aninebriated college student—the kind that is normally responsible for these invasions. Obviously this doesn’t go for every college-aged person—only the drunk and unwise ones that would perpetrate such scenes. A decent percentage of the time, any criminal mischief has something to do with the wisdom (or lack thereof) of the aggressors. 

Notice what I just called the storming of a sports arena: “criminal mischief.” It is criminal in a sense. Trespassing laws are being flaunted, and many other legal infractions are possible when such a large swarm of humanity descends upon a basketball court or football field. Of course, you couldn’t arrest anybody for that. That’s overly harsh, and would result in more damage and harm than necessary.  

​Something else that might work would be making the consequences of a court storming too much for a university to handle. The SEC has by far the most expensive fine of any conference: a maximum five hundred thousand dollar ($500,000) fine for a third offense (the price tag for the first two offenses is far less hefty), yet most of its members still flaunt the rule. The ACC, of which Wake Forest is affiliated, does not fine schools whose fans invade the playing area. 

​Why couldn’t the power conferences institute harsher penalties for this rule breaking? How about fining a school’s NIL collective millions? In today’s NIL age, universities have to guard every nickel as if it were the last coin on Earth, and use that cash to lure high-end recruits to campus. While a one-time event of a couple of “M’s” out of the bank account wouldn’t really hurt, if it happened a few times, universities would be losing a lot of money—enough to make them think about implementing new rules to deter students from storming the court. 

A third method for weeding out these terrible intrusions would be to revoke ticket privileges for anyone who charges the playing area. Maybe these people will watch their behavior if they see the consequences. You’d think taking away the right to purchase tickets ought to straighten people out in a jiffy. However, the consequences would be worse than imagined. Students wouldn’t attend; causing dull atmospheres that would hurt the home team—not to mention a drastic loss of revenue. Schools wouldn’t stand for that. 

University of Alabama director of athletics Greg Byrne suggested an extremely tough penalty that would absolutely end the storming of playing surfaces. He said that a school whose student section storms the court (or field) should instantly forfeit the game. While that’s extraordinarily harsh, it would indeed work to calm the fervor. 

It’s obvious why nobody has really tried to fix this problem plaguing collegiate athletics. Students won’t listen to sound advice and don’t think about the harm it could cause. Also, it’s a messy situation. You can’t use force to stop a court storming, because the resulting violence violates the entire principle of banning the activity. It would definitely be a tough thing to both do and enforce. But something has to be done—something. It is dangerous, scary, and downright shameful. One day soon, I hope that court storming will be a distant memory.

Zak McCullar, 15, is a contributing sports writer for The Community Journal. He is expected to write a monthly sports opinion piece as well as other future feature story assignments.  

Zak McCullar
Zak McCullar
Zak McCullar is a student at Carbon Hill High School. He is a longterm sports writer in Walker County and the host of Zak's Picks.

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