Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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Sports column

March 2, 2014

At least have a good reason to storm the court

BLUEFIELD — Sitting at the press table in Knoxville all those years ago, the Tennessee Volunteers were within seconds of upsetting No. 1 Florida, and I was covering the game for another newspaper located a few miles down the road that actually no longer sends reporters to SEC games.

Pity their reporters, that was the best time of my sports writing career.

Back to the story, security guards and school officials began advising us scribes to be prepared for what would happen next.

As soon as the buzzer sounded and the Vols had taken down No. 1, hundreds of students, adults, kids, fathers, mothers and perhaps even a few pets stormed the court, literally climbing over and under people and tables to get to the floor.

Body parts, computers, note pads, drinks and anything else were endangered as they tried to get to the floor to celebrate victory. I still recall students, some of whom would have to be told later what they did, using my head, shoulders and even legs to help propel them to their desired location.

Some fell on the way, others made it in one piece. They surrounded the Volunteers, held up their index fingers and tried all they could to find a camera to get on TV.

Meanwhile, the Gators tried to escape, but had to work their way through the mob, while trying to maintain their composure after a tough loss. These are, after all, students too, and they want to be left alone and no one wants defeat rubbed in their face.

I had been involved in scenes like this before and have been since then.

Back in the early 1990s when I wasn’t in the media, I got a courtside seat for No. 1 Duke at Virginia at University Hall. Virginia defeated what I believe was the eventual national champions, and the students stormed the court, and I joined them, something I would never do now.

I still have a program autographed from that night by several of the players involved. It was a nice win, but who even remembers it now, other than me.

As for another media moment in a different sport, a few years ago Virginia Tech finally defeated Florida State in football, and students and others climbed over the walls and onto the Lane Stadium turf to celebrate victory.

Standing literally feet from Frank Beamer, I was still far from the rather frazzled Virginia Tech coach when he was surrounded by a mass of flesh, all of whom wanted to get some television attention of their own as he was being interviewed about the win.

Never mind that was during the downfall of Bobby Bowden and the Seminoles, the Hokie Nation wanted to celebrate, and they wanted to celebrate on the field.

I still recall a few years ago I was able to allow Jamie Null to use my press pass to see her beloved Blue Devils play at Virginia Tech. The Hokies, when they actually had a decent hoops program, upset Duke, and she barely lived to tell about it.

She told me, and I think she wrote about it later, saying how she was literally scared with all these students climbing over the rails and then over the tables to get to the court, with none of them caring what they might step on to get there.

Storming the court has become the 'in' thing now in college basketball, and it has reached epidemic proportions this season.

On Thursday night, Utah Valley — ever heard of them, they are Division I — defeated New Mexico State to give them the inside track on the WAC title, and here came the fans.

Now this is the WAC, but apparently they take their basketball seriously out there too.

Right before the storm began, one of the New Mexico State players threw a ball that hit an opposing player. That helped set off a near riot, which wasn't helped with many folks rushing to the floor at the same time.

The next thing you know there are punches thrown, players getting suspended and publicity that both schools desperately want coming entirely the wrong way.

How that doesn't happen more often is a credit to the players. I have been in the midst of these situations in the past, and they can be intimidating. In nearly all cases, the athletes show restraint, but that has to be difficult.

Basketball is different than most sports in that the fans are literally on the floor, just feet or yards from the playing surface. I was there to see a brawl in Charlotte many years ago in which Charles Barkley and Jayson Williams of the 76ers started fighting with members of the Hornets, and the fight wound up with paying fans throwing a few punches in the melee.

You saw what happened recently when Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart fell into the expensive seats along the baseline, heard a comment from a fan and actually made physical contact with him.

Smart was suspended a few games, and the fan agreed not to return to any more Texas Tech games this season, which was probably a good thing for him.

There are leagues that have put a penalty on storming the court. The SEC fines the host school a hefty sum for such actions, but how many of these students really care? If they want to get to the floor to celebrate, they aren't worried if isn't coming out of their pockets.

Warnings will be given not to storm the court, much like it was Saturday when Virginia defeated Syracuse, and a few security guards will circle around the court, but no one can expect them to stop hundreds of bodies from getting to the floor.

I personally have nothing against court storming, but it should be for rare instances such as Virginia Tech beating Duke, which may never happen again.

It should be for special moments, not just for another win.

It reminds of me of an NFL player scoring a touchdown or those ridiculous sack dances or fits, as they usually look to me. Act like you have been there before, because hopefully you have.

The whole practice went over the top a few weeks at a school and in a rivalry between two clubs that have combined to win nine national championships.

Yet, North Carolina rallied to beat Duke in the greatest rivalry in college basketball, and the Tar Heels fans stormed the court. These are the same Tar Heels that have won five national titles.

Excuse me? They should be ashamed of themselves.

You have been there before. Act like it.

That is like Alabama football fans rushing the Georgia Dome field if they beat West Virginia in August, or anyone in basketball right now.

It isn’t going to happen.

If West Virginia wins however, storm away...  

—Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

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