Talks, but little action, on calls to ban college basketball

It’s been nearly two weeks since Duke’s Kyle Filipowski hobbled off the court after being caught in a swarm of jubilant Wake Forest basketball fans, sparking national debate over court storming and prompting widespread calls for a ban. Despite the outcry from coaches and others, no such action appears to be imminent for schools, conferences or the NCAA.

Within hours of the Feb. 24 storm at Wake Forest, both teams’ coaches called for an end to storming, video of the incident went viral and countless sports, news, talk and social media platforms began days of coverage of protective measures, penalties, potential bans and arguments for and against storms.

Commissioners from the Power 5 conferences discussed the topic in the past two weeks and ACC athletic directors did as well, a source with knowledge of the meetings told ESPN on Thursday. The source added that the Power 5 commissioners plan to reconvene after postseason tournaments. Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark told ESPN’s Outside the Lines on Feb. 26 he anticipated discussions to include “Do we go to a zero-tolerance situation here when it comes to field and court storming?” Said Yormark: “If we need to change behavior and change that culture, and that’s for the benefit of student-athletes, I think it’s something we need to address and consider.”

Meanwhile, no college sports leaders have announced new proposals or efforts in the past two weeks specifically directed at curbing court storming.

The frenzy of public discourse after Filipowski was similar to the aftermath of a Jan. 21 collision between Iowa star Caitlin Clark and an unidentified woman on court in Columbus after a storm to celebrate Ohio State’s win. Clark, now the all-time leading scorer in NCAA basketball and the almost-certain WNBA No. 1 draft pick, wasn’t seriously hurt and didn’t miss any games. Neither did Filipowski after initial concerns of a leg injury.

While 11 of 32 Division I conferences told ESPN they can impose fines on member schools in certain cases of court or field storms — the ACC does not have a fine structure or disciplinary measures — some opponents of storming say that’s not enough and advocate punishing participants under trespassing laws, as happens with streakers and protesters. In 2023, Florida passed a law that made court rushing a first-degree misdemeanor with a fine of up to $2,500 and made it a third-degree felony to bribe others to storm. And a Missouri legislator recently proposed a bill requiring colleges in the state to adopt policies that prohibit fans from entering fields and courts.

Amid calls for change, the NCAA says that would be up to conferences. But conferences have different policies and rules, which means college basketball — on the cusp of March Madness — has yet to stake out a clear or convincing position. Meanwhile, some people who have been caught and injured in storms continue to urge power brokers in the college game to take action, and perhaps learn from how U.S. professional sports leagues have largely put an end to the practice.

Kyle Filipowski during the second half of Duke’s game at Wake Forest on Feb. 24, after which fans stormed the court. AP Photo/Chuck Burton

The coaching perspective

Former Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski saw his share of road losses that touched off unbridled celebrations by home-team fans. After it happened at Virginia 11 years ago, Krzyzewski said, “Just get our team off the court — and our coaching staff — before students come on … we deserve that protection.”

Less than a week after the Duke/Wake Forest incident, Krzyzewski called for a ban, reinforced with upgraded security and punishments.

“For people who say, ‘That’s what college kids do,’ college kids do a lot of things and you have rules on your campus … to make sure it doesn’t go nuts,” Krzyzewski, Division I’s all-time winningest men’s coach, said on SiriusXM. “College basketball should come out with one set rule for men’s and women’s basketball and everyone does it that way.”

Added Krzyzewski: “Just saying that we don’t want them doesn’t mean they’re going to go away.”

High school coach Mike Mannix winced when he watched Filipowski helped off the court in Winston-Salem. Though he does not oppose court storming, the coach said that for more than a week he felt the angst of having seen his former high school player at Wilbraham & Monson Academy in Massachusetts in the center of that Wake Forest scene. And he saw the stress on Duke coach Jon Scheyer’s face, too.

“[Filipowski] kind of became a pinball,” Mannix said. “I can’t imagine what that’s like, because my stress was high enough without any physical contact.”

Mannix said none of his players got hurt in two storms when Filipowski was on the team, including a tournament loss his senior season. That night, Mannix tried to protect players by gathering them at the bench to wait out the celebration. But coaches aren’t always equipped to carry out evacuation plans for players, he said, because they are focused on the game and players’ immediate needs. To keep everyone safe, he added, someone else must lead change.

There are few solutions available to coaches trying to protect players, Mannix said, which is why he’d like to see venues focus on training their security and communicating with visiting schools’ operations teams about the most efficient paths off the court.

Many who have joined the debate about rushing courts focus on solutions that give losing teams time to flee before crowds block the exits. Proposals include delaying storms until players can reposition, having losing coaches act before the final buzzer to gather their team, and Mannix’s suggestion that the losing team be allowed to use the nearest exit even if it doesn’t lead directly to its locker room.

Celtics forward Larry Bird asks fans to push back during Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers at Boston Garden on June 12,1984. Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

What professional sports did

In January 1984, frenetic football fans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum stormed the field and tore down a goal post after the L.A. Raiders beat Seattle for the AFC title and a berth in the Super Bowl. That June, there was bedlam in the Boston Garden as a stampede of celebratory Celtics fans engulfed Larry Bird, his NBA title-winning teammates and their defeated Lakers opponents on the court seconds after Game 7. And in October, delirious Detroit fans were all over the diamond — and their heroes — upon the Tigers capturing the World Series in five games against San Diego.

Forty years later, court or field storming isn’t happening in U.S. professional sports at championship time or any other, while college storms are standard fare for the regular season.

“We really felt that we had dodged a bullet, so to speak,” former NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik told ESPN. “I remember that [game in Boston] being a seminal moment when we said, ‘Look, we can’t let this happen any longer, because somebody’s really going to get hurt, whether it be a fan or a player or anyone else involved in the game.'”

Former NBA senior vice president Brian McIntyre recalled an on-court altercation involving Lakers forward Kurt Rambis after that clinching contest and “Rambis popped a guy in self-defense and got sued.”

Although it took years before the NBA was able to fully stamp out storms, McIntyre said that from ’84 on, “We took action — we would bring personnel into the arena in the fourth quarter [of non-clinching games], have practices deploying people the way it would work, perimeter areas roped off.”

The rehearsals and measures for deciding games, McIntyre said, included hiring people to hold the ropes during late timeouts, having bicycle racks behind benches and tables as buffers, and public address messages asking fans to remain at their seats postgame.

In 1986, Kevin Hallinan was new to the job of security director for Major League Baseball. That Sept. 17, when the New York Mets clinched the National League East Division title at Shea Stadium, thousands of fans poured onto the field, mobbed the players and tore up the playing surface.

“It was absolute chaos,” Hallinan told ESPN. The next day, he said, commissioner Peter Ueberroth told him, “‘That can never happen again.’

“From that day on,” Hallinan said, “it was my No. 1 priority.”

Editor’s Picks

2 Related

MLB coordinated with the team, police department and the mayor’s office for a show of force that postseason. According to Hallinan, when the Mets came back to beat Boston in Game 7 of the World Series, there were more than 600 police officers present, including 80 mounted police, and fans were effectively deterred from going on the field.

“Initially, it costs money, but you set the tone,” said Hallinan. “There should be education of students, parents and fans as to safety. … There has to be buy-in.”

From the fall of ’86 on, Hallinan said, MLB ramped up its efforts to successfully prevent field storming, including showing video messages on scoreboards from prominent players about safe ways to celebrate.

Hallinan said he’s a big Caitlin Clark fan, wants colleges to follow the examples of the pros and thinks having Clark and other stars encourage fans “to be part of the team by staying at their seats” would be a compelling new approach.

Hallinan’s NFL counterpart, Milt Ahlerich, who served as the league’s security director from 1996-2011, told ESPN that in the middle of his tenure he spoke at a conference of college officials and felt they did not consider the prevention of storming to be an urgent issue.

“In the NFL, it [storming] was something that was just not going to be abided … and the police are very important to that,” Ahlerich said. “We wanted order, excitement and a professionally executed game-day experience — and that did not include fans going on the field.”

Ahlerich said there’s no quick fix, but that a task force of college coaches, athletic directors, players and other stakeholders could make a big difference over time. “It seems to me there’s a way to have a really good time celebrating a win without endangering people,” he said.

In response to requests by ESPN since late January, current officials from the NBA, NFL and MLB provided information on their leagues’ approaches to stopping fan incursions before they happen. Among the tenets are unified efforts and detailed planning with law enforcement and private security, definitive communications to fans about prohibitions, and criminal and other consequences — such as bans from venues — for anyone who attempts to circumvent them.

One league official told ESPN that monitoring social media for signs of impending breaches of security is an important aspect of heading them off and that incursions are declining significantly because of people who indicate their intentions and get stopped.

There are clear differences between colleges and the pros, like designs of venues, security budgets and staffing, the composition of crowds and the numbers of teams, locales and heated regular-season rivalry games. But the principles, policies and practices should be similar, according to former NBA executives who worked to eliminate storming from the league.

“A lot of times, the first ones to go onto the court have been overserved [alcoholic beverages] and are not thinking clearly,” Paula Hanson, a former NBA senior vice president, told ESPN. “The schools need to let them know it [court storming] is not part of the party.”

“You first have to decide how committed you are to getting rid of it,” said Granik. “It’s not something you can do halfway.”

Said McIntyre: “Fans don’t belong on the court and players don’t belong in the stands, period.”

Joe Kay suffered a torn carotid artery and a stroke that left him partially paralyzed after a court storm in 2004. Now 38, he’s traveled the world and plans to marry his fiancee, Valeria Evangelista, this month. Courtesy Joe Kay

How one storm left a lasting injury

Twenty years ago, after a rousing rivalry win on Feb. 6, 2004, Tucson High School fans stormed the court and one barreled into and upended Joe Kay, a star for the home team. Kay ended up under a pile and suffered a torn carotid artery and a stroke that left him paralyzed on the right side.

Kay, then an Arizona scholar-athlete of the year and the top saxophone player in the region, suddenly had to transform himself into a lefty, cope with aphasia and relearn walking, talking and thinking.

Now 38, Kay recently told ESPN he would like to contribute to society, but finding work he can do has been a struggle and the consequences of that night in his high school gym are always with him. “I have to deal with it every day, every night, seven days a week,” he said. “It’s unfair and will bother me until I die.”

He’s also bothered by the proliferation of storming, as if nobody has remembered or learned from what happened to him. “No changes were made,” he said. “People just went on acting like fools.”

After the Filipowski incident, Kay reiterated to ESPN that he is “completely in favor” of banning court storms and field storms.

“It’s way too long that we’ve been putting up with this,” he said. “The police should arrest people for going places they are not allowed to go. … They should enforce the rules as they do at other places. It’s exactly the same thing.

“Universities being fined doesn’t fix anything. Hopefully people will now come to their senses.”

Kay settled a lawsuit against the school district for $3.5 million — he is a rare example of a storming victim who has sued or settled, although crowd-crush lawsuits against entertainment venues have established that they can be held liable for injuries.

There have been many bright spots in Kay’s life the past 20 years. Stanford honored its scholarship offer and he went on to complete his degree. And he’s traveled the world. He plans to get married this month to a Brazilian woman he met on a trip to her home country.

What happened to Kay and what happened the next day, on Feb. 7, 2004, at Stanford, the college he eventually would attend, illustrate that the perils of court storms are not confined to visiting teams. Stanford fan Gerry Plunkett was at her Maples Pavilion seat near the action and the student section when Nick Robinson’s running 3-point buzzer-beater for the home team beat Arizona and unleashed a cascade onto the court that briefly buried him flat on his back, knocked down Plunkett and pinned her face down under her chair. Her husband, legendary Cardinal quarterback Jim Plunkett, was shoved into an adjacent table, unable to get to her through the crowd. She escaped with bruises to her leg.

Robinson, who was not hurt and is now an assistant coach at BYU, recently told ESPN that of all court storms, “that might have been the most dangerous one that took place, merely because there were multiple people that were on the ground … to be on the ground with that many people on top, with lots of different awkward situations, it could have been a lot worse than it was.

“It was an amazing experience to be a part of, but then that experience turns into concern that everybody can walk away safely.”

Carl Reed, Stanford’s assistant athletic director for facilities and operations in ’04, is now the senior associate athletic director at Sacramento State. He told ESPN that eliminating or cutting down on dangerous storming requires enlightening the crowds about the risks. “I think from the fans’ standpoints, some has been learned, but not a lot … through education, through conversation, through discussions, some students will get it.”

Scott Arey, associate athletic director for events and facilities at Northwestern, said after the Filipowski incident he was encouraged by how much storming is being talked about. “Maybe we’ll go from fans saying, ‘This is a cool thing to do,’ to, ‘Maybe we shouldn’t do this.'”

Reports of injuries from storms are rare. When Christian Watford’s 3-point home buzzer-beater propelled Indiana past top-ranked Kentucky on Dec. 10, 2011, Wildcat loyalist Megan Dills said days later she was knocked down several steps of IU’s Assembly Hall by frenzied Hoosier fans rushing the court. She said she suffered a swollen ankle and injured tendons, forcing her to miss a photo shoot for her work as a model.

Four years later, Des Moines Register columnist Randy Peterson was on his way to covering postgame news conferences when a court storm at Iowa State knocked him down, breaking his leg, after a 1-point comeback win by the Cyclones over archrival Iowa. The next day, Peterson told the Dan Patrick Show he was OK with storming: “Let the people who need to get off the floor first get off the floor, and the students can celebrate all they want.”

In another Cyclones storm, referee Darron George got caught in a crowd of fans celebrating a 2012 victory against Kansas. He reportedly hurt his hand.

“He’s one of the first ones off the court and they have police escorts… If it can happen to officials who are escorted off the floor, it can happen to anybody,” Kansas coach Bill Self told KU Sports. Two days after the Feb. 24 Wake Forest storm, Self told ESPN, “Let’s get rid of it, totally.”

Signs at Northwestern use the state’s criminal code to inform crowds at football and basketball games of the rules. Courtesy Northwestern University

In the courts

While several courts have used trespassing laws to punish individuals who have run onto courts alone or in small groups, the fact that those laws also apply to crowds seems to have done little to deter them from storming.

Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois, uses the state’s criminal code in messages to crowds at football and basketball games. An Illinois statute makes it a felony for fans to enter courts or fields “after having received notice that the general public” doesn’t have access to them, meaning that would-be stormers could face fines of at least $1,000. Like all criminal trespassing codes, it applies to members of groups no matter how large.

At Northwestern, Arey said, signs with that prohibition inform fans at Ryan Field (which is now being demolished) and Welsh-Ryan Arena. Those have been posted for the past two years, and public address announcements are made before and during the games to reinforce the message.

The law, the signs and the announcements notwithstanding, there were three Northwestern storms in 2023, all when the Wildcats beat Purdue — once for a football victory in November that propelled NU to bowl eligibility, and twice (in February and December) for upsets of the No. 1 Boilermakers in men’s basketball.

“We haven’t had any arrests,” Arey said, “and I’m not aware of there being any under the statute at other Illinois colleges or high schools.”

Under Pennsylvania law, ticket holders who rush from bleachers onto fields or courts are considered trespassers. Fans in Pennsylvania and Illinois have been prosecuted for entering fields like those of the Phillies and Cubs.

Many other states, including California, New York and Ohio, have used general trespass codes to prosecute people who run onto professional fields or courts.

On Feb. 29, Missouri state representative Mark Sharp introduced a bill that would punish stormers. He proposed the legislation after watching this season’s two notable storming collisions and after attending the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl parade, where a fatal shooting sent panicked crowds fleeing. If it passes, every college in the state would have to develop and implement a policy banning fans from stepping foot onto courts and fields at the end of games.

“We can’t have all these rules in place to protect student-athletes [during games],” Sharp told ESPN, “and then let this happen.”

ESPN researcher John Mastroberardino contributed to this report.

Previous Article
Next Article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.