Storming the court: ESPN is going to get somebody killed

basketball1If you watched SportsCenter after last night’s Kansas State upset of eighth-ranked Kansas, you saw the anchors beside themselves over the court storm by K-State fans.

The show started with a lengthy report from the scene with multiple interviews of Wildcats players and coaches against the backdrop of fans. The scene was a nice infomercial for Kansas State, all that is good for college basketball, and of course ESPN, which does its part to instigate the kind of manic atmospheres that makes college basketball what it is.

And then we hear after the game that KU coach Bill Self was pinned against the scorers table by fans rushing the court, and had to be extricated from the situation by Kansas State coach Bruce Weber. And that a fan ran across the court to deliver a shoulder tackle on Kansas forward Jamari Taylor.

Then there’s Kansas assistant coach Kurtis Townsend putting an aggressive fan in a headlock.

The court storm is something that happens basically all the time. UVA was in the headlines for a couple of days in 2013 after the Cavs upset then-#3 Duke in a late-season game, and Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski raised issue with security in the face of fans rushing the court at the John Paul Jones Arena in the celebration that followed.

What happened at JPJ that night was tame by the standards of what we saw last night in Manhattan, Kan. In all cases, it seems like a simple problem to try to solve: have a security plan in place, execute it, and punish those who break through the dragnet.

That can be easy to say and hard to do, of course, but there’s another factor that can dampen the enthusiasm of those who end up leading the court storms: ESPN. If ESPN (and other TV broadcasters) cut away from court storms on live TV, and don’t show the highlights afterward, it won’t be long before the sexiness of storming the court goes away.

The policy wouldn’t be all that hard to put into place. Broadcasters already make it a policy to cut away when a lone fan runs onto a field or court so as not to encourage that kind of activity.

The only hard part to it is that broadcasters, first and foremost ESPN, like the court storm, and oddly encourage it, as adding to the atmosphere of game day.

It’s all well and good until somebody gets hurt, like the Stanford volleyball recruit, Joe Kay, who was paralyzed after a court-storm at the end of a high-school basketball game in 2004. Or the UVA media-relations employee who was trampled after a 2001 upset of Duke at University Hall, her arm broken, worse damage avoided only because two UVA football players put up a human wall to protect her before carrying her to safety.

At the least, ESPN and other broadcasters need to give equal time in their postgame coverage of court storms to the injuries, the fans pushing up against rival players and coaches, the general chaos, as opposed to just giving us the rah-rah.

– Column by Chris Graham