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Mike Sorensen: Rushing the court may be fun, but it needs to be curbed

Published: Sunday, March 2 2014 7:29 p.m. MST

In this Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014 photo, New Mexico State's Daniel Mullings, center left in red and white jersey, is involved in a brawl involving players and fans who came onto the court when New Mexico State guard K.C. Ross-Miller hurled the ball at Utah Valley's Holton Hunsaker seconds after the Wolverines' 66-61 overtime victory against the Aggies in Orem, Utah. (AP Photo/The Daily Herald, Grant Hindsley) MANDATORY CREDIT

Grant Hindsley, AP

SALT LAKE CITY — Call me a killjoy, an old fuddy-duddy or whatever, but I don't like the idea of rushing the field. Or storming the court.

I’m also not a fan of Gatorade showers after every football victory, hand slaps after every basketball free throw, or hugs after every gymnastics routine.

Too many things in sports seem to be overdone these days.

It used to be that fans rushed the field or court on rare occasions — like when their team won its first championship, or upset the No. 1 team in the nation.

These days, fans rush the court, it seems, just to rush the court. It’s the thing to do — like camping outside in tents for the latest blockbuster movie or the latest cellphone. Let’s do it because everybody else is doing it!

OK, I admit, I’ve rushed the court before. If you’ve ever seen the video of the Utah Stars’ ABA championship victory over Kentucky, I’m the long-haired teenager front and center in the white T-shirt and Levi's looking straight at the camera before I joined the celebration at the old Salt Palace.

But now I’m older and supposedly wiser. Maybe it goes back to early in my career as a sportswriter when I saw a crowd on a college football field pull down the goalposts after rushing the field. One of the steel uprights swung around and hit a guy in the side of the face, leaving him a bloody mess.

Since then, I’ve always steered clear of postgame celebrations. You never know what is going to happen — whether it’s getting hit in the head by a goalpost or having an inebriated fan jump all over you.

Last Thursday night, I had an up-close-and-personal view of the ugly scene in Orem that made national news.

I was covering the Utah Valley-New Mexico State basketball game, sitting about 15 feet away from the court when all hell broke loose as a routine court-rushing by jubilant fans turned into a brawl at center court — complete with fans and opposing players mixing it up with fists and shoves before order could be restored.

This was actually one case where rushing the court was somewhat justified. Utah Valley has been a Division I school for less than a decade and by beating NMSU, the Wolverines virtually assured themselves of a piece of the Western Athletic Conference regular-season title.

The Wolverines had looked dead in the water, trailing by six with a little more than a minute left, only to come back and tie the game in the final seconds and then win in overtime. Naturally, the fans were excited and the Aggie players were upset to have lost a game they thought they had in the bag.

The two scenarios weren’t a good mixture, however.

First, K.C. Ross-Miller fired a ball at UVU’s Holton Hunsaker as the final buzzer went off. At the same time, a group of students flooded onto the floor and the fisticuffs began.

Clearly, the New Mexico State player precipitated the whole mess and his teammates were out of line for mixing it up with the exuberant fans.

On the other hand, if I was a New Mexico State player and all of a sudden, I had a bunch of college students bouncing within inches of my face after I had just suffered an agonizing loss, I might have reacted poorly.

Would this ugly scene have happened if fans hadn’t been in the mix?

Probably not.

If you watch the tape, which I’m sure most basketball fans in Amercia have seen at least once by now, UVU’s Hunsaker didn’t rush at Ross-Miller after being hit. He just stood there with his hands up, like, ‘What the heck was that?’ Ross-Miller started to head back toward Hunsaker, but was quickly intercepted by an assistant coach.

As far as I could tell, none of the UVU players tried to fight the NMSU players and most high-tailed it off the floor as they should have. The problem was a handful of fans who got into some fisticuffs with a couple of Aggie players.

Some pundits have said what happened in Orem might turn out to be a tipping point in curtailing postgame celebrations. It comes on the heels of the incident this year when Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart shoved a fan in the stands. That was a different situation, but the idea of too much contact between fans and players needs to be addressed.

The Southeastern Conference has one solution: It fines the home school $5,000 for the first offense of rushing the field or court, $25,000 for the second offense and as much as $50,000 for subsequent violations.

That policy, which has been in effect for nearly 10 years, ”is designed to create a safe environment for our student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans," according to a league statement.

It’s a worthy idea, but not a perfect solution, however. Just two nights ago, South Carolina students ignored repeated warnings about storming the court in a win over No. 17 Kentucky and did it anyway. The school will have to pay the price.

Michael Wilbon, who stars on ESPN’s "Pardon the Interruption," has a more drastic solution. He says the home team should forfeit the game if its fans rush the floor. While that threat might be enough to stop most folks, there will always be a few knuckleheads who would be selfish enough to not worry about costing their team a victory.

My feeling is that every league should institute a rushing-the-field/court policy with fines larger than the ones the SEC uses. That puts the onus on the school to make sure it has enough security and warnings to handle the masses that might jump out of the stands.

Another idea is to ban anyone who goes on the floor during or after a game from the venue for future games. With video technology that shouldn’t be hard to do.

Rushing the court may be fun, but it’s simply gotten out of hand lately. We don’t want our sports to become like some in foreign countries, where fields are surrounded by moats or fences with razor wire at the top.

For the safety of the athletes as well as the fans, something needs to be done to curb the court-storming. The sooner the better.

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