Storming the court is becoming a hazard for ACC basketball

jgiglio@newsobserver.comMarch 1, 2013 

  • Storming the court this season

    Feb. 28: Duke at Virginia

    Feb. 23: Miami at Wake Forest

    Feb. 16: Duke at Maryland

    Jan. 23: Duke at Miami

    Jan. 22: N.C. State at Wake Forest

    Jan. 16: N.C. State at Maryland

    Jan. 12: Duke at N.C. State

    Nov. 28: Michigan State at Miami

    Researched by Peggy Neal and Brooke Cain

Rushing the court to celebrate a big win has become as much a part of ACC basketball this season as the jump ball and the pep band.

When Virginia fans stormed the court after the Cavaliers’ win over Duke on Thursday night, it was the eighth time this season that an ACC home court was rushed.

But as Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski pointed out after his team’s loss, it’s not fun and games when players, coaches and fans get caught in the middle of a potentially dangerous physical clash. North Carolina coach Roy Williams took a similar stance last season after a highly publicized incident at Florida State, when he pulled most of his team from the court toward the end of a blowout loss.

Only one ACC game ended with the home fans rushing the court last season. It has happened seven times in league play this season, plus after Miami’s home win over Michigan State on Nov. 28.

The ACC has no policy on post-game on-the-court celebrations. Karl Hicks, the associate commissioner for basketball, said in a statement released by the league Friday that the safety concerns that go with hundreds of fans storming a 94-by-50 foot surface have previously been discussed in league meetings and could be revisited by the conference in the offseason.

But for now, the floodgates will remain open.

A frustrated Krzyzewski talked after Thursday’s loss about the potential for a physical confrontation between the game’s participants and over-exuberant fans.

“And what do you do? What if you did something?” Krzyzewski said, in specific reference to a fan pushing a player or hitting a player. “That would be the story. We deserve that type of protection.”

Replays of the end of the Duke-Virginia game showed the difficulties Duke’s players and coaches had in getting off the court. A security team, of about two dozen people in bright yellow coats, lined up length-wise on the John Paul Jones Arena court and created a path for the players and coaches to shake hands in front of the team benches and scorers’ table.

A uniformed police officer was stationed in front of the Virginia bench, where Duke was trying to leave the court, and prevented fans from rushing toward the Duke players and coaches. But the security team also prevented Duke from getting out of harm’s way, while it let more fans onto the court to celebrate.

Video of Duke exit

A video clip from the end of the game, posted on YouTube by thesabre.com a Virginia fan website, shows an agitated Krzyzewski confronting one of the uniformed police officers in an attempt to get the Duke players off the court. Shortly after, two police officers helped Krzyzewski and the Duke players exit the floor.

Krzyzewski said the celebrations, and his team has seen four this season, should wait until the opposing team safely exits the court.

“Whatever you’re doing, you need to get the team off first,” Krzyzewski said. “Look, celebrate, have fun, obviously you won, that’s cool. Just get our team off the court and our coaching staff before students come on.”

N.C. State’s post-game celebration after a win over Duke on Jan. 12 made national headlines when Will Privette, an N.C. State student in a wheelchair, got knocked over in the post-game scrum before he was eventually lifted to safety by Wolfpack star C.J. Leslie.

Twice since then, the Wolfpack has seen the fans of the opposing team rush the court.

The increase in the number of on-court celebrations highlights the ACC’s lack of a policy for such situations.

The Southeastern Conference instituted a policy in December 2004 that sets up a system of fines for the schools for on-court celebrations in basketball and on-field celebrations in football. While the ACC has had eight instances of court-storming this season, the SEC hasn’t had any. The ACC has had more highly ranked teams than the SEC, hence more opportunities to storm the court. But the SEC’s policy has also acted as a deterrent.

The first offense is a $5,000 fine, according to Craig Pinkerton, director of media relations for the SEC. The second time it happens, the fine increases to $25,000. A third offense, in a three-year window, would trigger a $50,000 fine. South Carolina was fined $5,000 in 2005 and $25,000 in 2010 after basketball wins over Kentucky.

‘Safety ... a priority’

Each ACC school is responsible for its own procedures, according to the ACC’s Hicks.

“Safety is always a priority for our conference and member schools,” Hicks said in the statement released by the ACC on Friday. “As per the request of our membership, each host institution is responsible for event security and the first priority is getting the visiting team and officials off the court safely.”

One option could be for the league to adopt a uniform policy for an exit strategy for opposing teams.

N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried, who previously coached at Alabama in the SEC, said he hopes the ACC doesn’t adopt an SEC-type policy.

“I just wasn’t a fan of it at all,” said Gottfried, who was Alabama’s coach from 1998 to 2009. “I do think it’s the difference between the NBA and college. I think it adds to the college game, the atmosphere and being a student. So I’m hopeful our league never adopts what the SEC did.”

UNC’s early exit

Williams tried to prevent an ugly scene after a loss at Florida State last season. With 14 seconds left in the Tar Heels’ 90-57 loss at Florida State on Jan. 14, 2012, Williams led most of his team off the court and into the locker room.

But the five UNC players who had been in the game at the time – a group comprised of four walk-ons – remained on the court and were engulfed in the chaotic celebration that began when time expired on one of the most memorable victories in Florida State history. Williams said later he thought his entire team had followed him off the court, and that he didn’t intend to leave anyone behind.

Williams has consistently defended the spirit of his decision, which he said was meant to protect his players from any potential incidents involving opposing fans. Williams said he was fearful of a repeat of a scene that happened after the Tar Heels’ 90-80 loss at UNLV earlier in the 2011-12 season.

UNLV fans swarmed the court after that game, and the Tar Heels had difficulty getting back to their locker room. One of UNC’s female student managers was pushed to the ground in the melee, and an irate Williams chastised a police officer in a hallway after that game.

“Most people criticize me for that, and I’ve got no problem,” Williams said earlier this season. “But those blankety-blank-blanks that say that I should have known they were out there, I say yeah, but sometimes you don’t. And I thought we were all leaving the floor. We were getting the dickens out of town and trying to take care of my team.”

Staff writers Laura Keeley and Andrew Carter contributed to this report

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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