The year’s conference tournaments have given us more dramatic finishes than any year I can remember, especially in the smaller leagues. They have also produced some of the wildest court-storming mob scenes in recent memory. It’s a problem that keeps getting worse.
Sunday morning ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” program did a thoughtful examination of the issue of storming the court in college (and high school) basketball. The examination started with a feature story that should be required viewing for every student who attends a college football game in this country. And for every Athletic Administrator who looks the other way while sanctioning mayhem with their salience.
Many of you may know the story of Joe Kay from Tucson, Arizona. Everyone should know his story. Kay was a star athlete at Tucson High School, signed to a volleyball scholarship by Stanford. He was also a terrific basketball player and honors student who had the misfortune of leading his team to a stunning upset win.
The fans stormed the court. One, in an effort to lift Kay instead threw him to the ground where he was trampled by the onrushing mob. Kay’s carotid artery was torn and he suffered a massive stroke. It’s a miracle he survived but his athletic career is over and he will have physical limitations for the rest of his life.
That same day Stanford, one of the worst offenders in the nation stormed the court to celebrate a win and crushed Gerry Plunkett, the wife of former Cardinal great Jim Plunkett. Now Mr. Kay and Mrs. Plunkett are trying to get the rest of the world to do something before someone is killed.
When I Became a Convert
I was a big fan of celebrations on the court or on the field. I thought they were wonderful ways for the fans to share the moment with the players. I was an idiot.
That became clear for me when Florida beat Georgia in Jacksonville in 1984 and tore down the goal posts. You may or may not remember one of the uprights being passed up through the stands. Them it was thrown over the side. There were people down there and that no one was killed still amazes me. That moment is forever etched in my mind and I’ll never advocate participatory celebrations again.
How to Put a Stop to it
Education of Administrators —– They should bring Joe Kay to the NCAA Convention and have him speak to administrators about why they need to find a collective spine BEFORE someone gets killed. There is no better way to deliver that message.
* Education of Student-Athletes —– If you have a video board, play the piece on Kay before games. If you don’t produce a flier that students must read before they can attend games.
* Education of Media —– It would certainly help the cause if more people with the microphone or the printing press or internet forums would come out against this lunacy. ESPN, the most influential voice in college athletics must take the lead.
* Constant Announcements —– The public address announcer should, at every game remind people to stay off the playing surface. Reminders should be consistent, strong and emphatic.
* Strong Punishment for Schools —– If your students storm the court/field you are fined $ 100,000 for the first offense. A second offense carries a $ 250,000 price tag and the loss of one game and one scholarship for the following season. The fines are paid to the opposing school. It might keep people in the stands if they know they are raising money for the team they just beat. Schools will be much more diligent if they could lose a scholarship or a game of competition for failing to control the crowd.
* Strong Punishment for Students —– Keep the cameras rolling and make sure anyone storming the court is caught. Don’t just take away their right to attend games for the rest of the season, take it away for life. Suspend them for a semester if you really want to create a major deterrent.
It’s not hard to do the right thing. Sure, some people will complain but that’s show biz. This issue needs to be dealt with in a major way or some day I fear I will be writing about someone who lost their life in one of these authorized riots.