Rushing the Floor, Rushing to Judgment

When storming the court in college basketball goes wrong, you have Manhattan. But does rushing the floor need to be banned?

Given how things have gone since then, I’m pretty sure that the last time there was a court-storming at a Stanford men’s basketball game was on February 7, 2004. If you need help remembering what happened that day, I’ll sum it up with one name and one phrase: Nick Robinson and The Shot.

As soon as that ball went through the net to beat Arizona, the Stanford crowd erupted with a roar that had not been heard at Maples Pavilion before (or since). The Sixth Man Club surged out of the stands, onto the floor, and into the corner of the arena where Robinson had landed. It was a delirious atmosphere of chaos, joy, shock, and unchecked glee.

Brings a smile to my face even now. I remember that moment and that scene quite fondly. One Stanford rooter probably doesn’t. That may be because she got caught up in the crush of the Sixth Man Club, her leg caught in the folding chairs along the sideline. After a few terrifying moments, she was helped up and pulled free by her courtside seatmates: one of her rescuers being a gentleman named Eldrick Woods. Incredibly, she only came away from it all with a severely bruised leg.

That’s probably how Gerry Plunkett – Jim’s wife – remembers The Shot.

Every college basketball season brings a court-storming gone wrong. This year, Manhattan, Kansas drew the straw. Kansas State beat ninth-ranked Kansas on Monday night, and Wildcats fans decided to mark the occasion by wildly rushing the floor. How else to celebrate a rare win over a national power that just happens to be your in-state rival? How else to commemorate Kansas State’s fifth win over Kansas in 45 Big 12 games?

In the midst of the mayhem, Jayhawk head coach Bill Self was nearly pinned against the scorers’ table, a Kansas assistant coach appeared to have a Wildcat fan in a headlock, and another Kansas State fan appeared to take a shot at a Jayhawk player. Kansas State’s athletic department apologized, admitting that its security personnel dropped the ball and failed to properly protect the Kansas players, coaches, and staff.

This year, it happened in Manhattan. Last year, a thrilling overtime win for Utah Valley over New Mexico State devolved into an on-court melee. As the final buzzer sounded, players got involved in a skirmish that spilled over into fans storming the court. Next thing anyone knew, Utah Valley fans were trading punches with New Mexico State players.

Rushing the court can be a unpredictably volatile mix that can turn joy into ugliness and potential tragedy in a split second. That’s a huge reason why fans need to stay off the playing surface, and – in the rare occasions when this happens – players need to stay out of the stands.

So this means I’m going to spend the rest of this column condemning court-storming and proposing that moats be installed around all basketball courts and demanding the death penalty for any college kid who dares to rush the floor, right? Well, no. I don’t think storming the court – if it’s done right – is as evil as some seem to think.

Problem is, many times, it isn’t done right.

Do you need to storm the court every time you beat your arch-rival? No. Remember when North Carolina kids stormed the court after the Tar Heels beat Duke in a relatively nondescript result last year? I do, and I still can’t believe it happened. That would have been like the Sixth Man Club celebrating Stanford’s desperately-needed win over Cal last Saturday by rushing the floor.

(Then again, I probably would’ve enjoyed that, because at least I would’ve known the Sixth Man Club was actually there. Was it me or did the sliver of Cal students that made trip to Maples last week make infinitely more noise than the entire Stanford student section?)

Do you need to storm the court for every big conference win? Nope. Do you need to swarm the floor for every buzzer beater? No way.

Now, if your team beats Kentucky this year, go nuts. Some wins are worthy of a court-storming. The majority, however, are not. Given the circumstances, Monday night in Manhattan was worthy of a floor-rushing. What happened after that game largely falls on the security staff, not necessarily on a bunch of overzealous kids who have no business on the court.

If the losing team can get off the floor safely, if everyone acts right, and if the moment really, truly calls for it, I have no major problem when the court gets stormed in college basketball. But when all of those conditions are not met, many times the best-case scenario is Manhattan on Monday.

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