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After Caitlin Clark incident, what can be done about court storming?

Purdue’s Matt Painter was just the latest college basketball coach to bemoan the dangers of fans storming the court after his top-ranked Boilermakers lost at Nebraska on Jan. 9.

‘We gotta do something about the court storms, guys,’ Painter said after the Big Ten game in Lincoln. ‘I don’t know why institutions aren’t ready for it. Like, what did you think was going to happen if they won? Like, spread the word. Spread the word before anyone gets hurt.’

Painter’s comments were widely shared on social media again on Sunday after Iowa women’s basketball star Caitlin Clark collided with a fan after the Hawkeyes’ overtime loss at Ohio State. Clark tumbled to the floor and was tended to by arena officials, a police officer and teammates. She said during postgame interviews that she was OK physically but that it could have been much worse.

‘I was just trying to exit the court as quickly as possible, so I started running and I was absolutely just hammered by somebody trying to run onto the court,’ Clark said. ‘Basically blindsided and, you know, kind of scary, could have caused a pretty serious injury to me and knocked the wind out of me. But luckily my teammates kind of picked me up and got me off the court.’

Almost before the Clark situation had a chance to go viral on social media, a Memphis men’s basketball player was shoved by a fan who rushed the court after a Sunday game vs. Tulane.

Students racing onto the hardwood after the home team beats a ranked opponent has become as common a sight at college basketball games as pep bands and mascots. Some conferences have attempted to make things safer over the years by instituting tougher penalties for court-storming, but it’s a phenomenon that has been allowed to go on for decades, despite the inherent risks.

Painter essentially said that court-stormings are inevitable, so schools just need to plan around them better. The Boilermakers were lucky that night as no one was hurt. ‘Nothing happened,’ Painter said, ‘but something’s going to happen.’

‘A student from Nebraska should be able to storm the court, right. Like, we’re cool,’ Painter said. ‘But just like get ready for it if that’s what you’re gonna do. We’re struggling in our conference with that … Someone’s gonna get hurt. And it’s gonna be a student. Could be one of Nebraska’s guys. Could be one of our guys. Could be someone working the scorer’s bench. Could be anybody. But like I don’t know why people don’t get ahead of it, all right?’

Sunday’s Caitlin Clark incident puts issue in the spotlight

More than 18,000 people attended the Big Ten women’s basketball game Sunday between Iowa and Ohio State, the most ever to watch a women’s basketball game at Ohio State. After the No. 15 Buckeyes finished the 100-92 overtime win over No. 2 Iowa, fans streamed past security and onto the floor.

Clark, while trying to exit the floor amid an immediate court-storming, collided hard with a charging Ohio State fan trying to film the madness. Clark was in pain as she was escorted to the locker room by a policeman with teammates by her side.

‘This is what comes with the territory,’ Clark said after the game. ‘I’m sure (Ohio State arena officials) tried their best to do whatever they could. Obviously, it didn’t work and that’s disappointing. But I’m just focused now on the game and ways we can get better.’

Jan Jensen, Iowa’s associate head coach, told The Associated Press on Monday that Clark reported no after-effects from the collision. Clark is the reigning national player of the year and is closing in on becoming the all-time leading scorer in Division I women’s basketball.

‘When you have an athlete that hits the turf − but then you have arguably the highest-profile college athlete − this might spark the debate about what do we need to do with this,’ Jensen said.

How Big Ten and other conferences handle court-storming

Of the six major basketball conferences, four fine host schools for failure to keep fans off the court. Those conferences include the Big 12, the SEC, the Pac-12 and the Big East. The ACC and Big Ten do not fine schools when fans go on the court.

‘We try not to be too heavy-handed on the policy of court-storming for a problem that doesn’t necessarily exist. … Don’t want to unfairly financially hurt already cash-strapped athletic departments,’ Big Ten vice president of strategic communications Scott Markley said Monday in an interview with The Associated Press.

‘But we do have a policy,’ he said. ‘But generally it’s rely on school policy, local law enforcement, (to) know what’s best for their fans and student-athletes and officials. And we’re always monitoring these things and discuss if we need to make adjustments in the interest of a safe environment.’

In a statement released to the Des Moines Register on Monday, the Big Ten said: ‘The safety and security of student-athletes, coaches and staff is of upmost importance. The Big Ten requires host institutions to provide adequate security for visiting teams from their arrival for a game through their departure. If adequate security is not provided, there is a process in place that begins with a private reprimand for the first offense, public reprimand for second offense, and the discretion to implement a fine plus additional penalties for a third offense. We routinely review our policy as needed to ensure a safe environment for everyone.’

‘Ensuring a safe environment’ is part of every press release after a headline-grabbing court-storming incident. But how best to do that? The SEC has decided that hitting schools in the wallet − hard − is the answer. The league fines schools $100,000 for the first offense of fans storming the field or court, $250,000 for the second and $500,000 for subsequent offenses. Those who follow SEC sports say the policy generally has been effective at keeping fans in the stands.

Those payments go to the opposing school involved in the game. In other words, if Iowa and Ohio State were in the SEC, the Hawkeyes would be in line for a $100,000 check from the Buckeyes.

Schools try to ensure safety … while keeping fans happy

Iowa men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery said Monday that schools are in a tough position. They want to encourage students to be excited about basketball while also maintaining a safe environment.

‘Everyone loves (rushing the court). Everyone thinks it’s wonderful,’ McCaffery said. ‘Until something like (the Clark incident) happens, and then we got to change. Think back, we used to tear the goalposts down (in football), right? Until somebody got hit in the head. Then it wasn’t such a good idea.

‘So I don’t think they’re going away. But I guess there’s really two solutions. Either you let them happen or you don’t. Bring the cops in and don’t let it happen − I don’t think that’s realistic. You want these kids to come to the game and be enthusiastic and run on the court and have fun and support your team.

‘It’s unfortunate what happened to Caitlin. Fortunately, she’s OK. She’s as tough as they come. We know that. She’ll probably have 45 in the next game.’

Painter wasn’t sure how schools can do better at keeping athletes and others safe, though he had a few thoughts on the matter.

‘You got to have order,’ Painter said. ‘You got to get a rope. You got to get police officers. You got to get people around and protect your own, protect us, protect them, protect the fans.’

Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff apologized for the incident, and Clark said athletics director Gene Smith did the same.

‘That should never happen,’ McGuff said after the game. ‘I feel really badly. Hopefully, she’s OK and it doesn’t affect her moving forward. That’s extremely unfortunate. It shouldn’t happen to anybody, but man, such a great player like Caitlin, I really hate that. I know we had security in place, but the student apparently beat the security.’

Clark was diplomatic in her assessment of the situation. Her 24th-year head coach, Lisa Bluder, was more direct with her frustration.

‘It’s unfortunate the game ended that way, Caitlin gets taken out on the floor,’ Bluder said. ‘Gets some inappropriate words yelled at her by fans and students. That just should not happen…

‘Our players should be safe. They should be able to walk off the floor. That’s very disappointing. Ohio State — great team, great environment— but obviously very disappointed with the postgame, our players getting injured trying to walk out of the gym. That’s wrong.’

Also Sunday, another court-storming creates headlines

How common is it for college basketball fans to rush to the floor? Watch highlights on ESPN for a week and you’re bound to see at least a couple. Painter’s Purdue team has been the recipient of court-stormings at Northwestern and Nebraska this season. Same with Indiana, Northwestern and Maryland last season, including an incident where a student climbed and stood on top of the rim.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be much of a surprise, then, that also Sunday − shortly after the collision with Clark at Ohio State − much of the crowd at Tulane stormed the floor to celebrate a men’s basketball victory over No. 12 Memphis. An unidentified shirtless man put his hands on Memphis star David Jones during the chaos. Jones was seated on the floor after missing a potential game-winning field goal. As Jones was helped up by teammate Jahvon Quinerly, the Tulane fan appeared to shove Jones in the back.

Tulane released a statement Sunday, condemning the actions of the fan.

‘This type of behavior is unacceptable and these are actions that are not condoned by Tulane Athletics or the University,’ the statement reads. ‘We are following up on this matter and have been in contact with the University of Memphis and the American Athletic Conference office. Ensuring the safety of everyone at Tulane Athletics events will always be our highest priority and we will continue to be vigilant in this regard moving forward.’

Hawkeye men’s basketball player Even Brauns, a transfer from Belmont, said Monday that he’s been part of teams that were on the losing end of court-stormings.

‘If you’re the team that wins … I’m sure it’s a great time. Obviously, what happened with Caitlin raises a lot of questions,’ Brauns said. ‘Fans run up and yell all sorts of stuff in your face. And you kind of have to take it on the chin. Some guys kind of lose their cool.

‘So I think it’s, I don’t know, it’s fun, it’s a fun part of it and I get it. But I think that there could probably be done more to protect the players.’

Court-stormings are almost entirely a college sports phenomenon in the United States. It’s exceptionally rare to see fans on the playing field or court after NBA, NFL or Major League Baseball games. One difference: the presence of 18- to 21-year-old students making up a significant chunk of college crowds.

‘Thank God that Caitlin wasn’t physically injured,’ said Des Moines Register columnist Randy Peterson, who sustained a fractured leg during a 2015 court-storming at Hilton Coliseum in Ames. ‘The spontaneous emotion is what we love about college athletics, and court-storming is a part of that emotion that must happen safely. Somehow, administrators, coaches, players and media need to be off the court before fans run onto the court.’

Peterson got caught up in the crowd and was injured following an Iowa State’s men’s basketball victory over Iowa.

‘I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.’

Iowa State’s basketball policy

Iowa State University shared its postgame basketball celebration protocol with the Register on Monday. It reads in part:

‘The athletics department asks that all patrons without proper credentials refrain from going on the playing field or court at any time.

‘To reduce the risk of injury to staff and patrons, patrons will be allowed to storm the field/court if a mass of persons do so at the same time.

‘Should the fans rush the field or occur postgame, Iowa State University will take the following actions in conjunction with the stadium management company and law enforcement:

City of Ames Police Department will meet the officials to escort them to their locker room.Arena staff will escort teams off the court on the team bench side of the arena.Arena management company (BEST) assigned to the visiting team’s coaching staff shall escort them to their locker room.Patrons will be allowed 10-15 minutes on the court.

‘Additionally, we have installed barricade on the front of the student section seating areas as a method of slowing the flow of any court rush from those areas.’

The Associated Press and USA Today Network contributed to this report. Also contributing: the Register’s Dargan Southard, Travis Hines and Tyler Tachman.

This post appeared first on USA TODAY

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