Tuesday morning I was striding on the treadmill watching Sportscenter when the highlight of the day came on the tube. It was of the previous night’s Kansas State / Kansas game. Both teams battled but in the end the 14 and 15 Kansas State Wildcats bested their in state rival; the 8th ranked Kansas Jayhawks 70-63. While a victory over Kansas is not a monumental win, it was no Navy over Notre Dame in football or Clemson finally besting North Carolina after losing in Chapel Hill for 57 straight years (has not happened yet). But since they began playing each other in 1907 Kansas has been the victor nearly 70% of the time including a 31 game winning streak in the 1990s. Bottom line, Kansas generally owns K-State.
So it was not surprising to see the students storm the court. After all, it was a hard fought win, Kansas should have won easily but they did not. As the time faded thousands of students and other fans ran onto the court, and swarmed the Wildcat players. Okay, we have seen this play out a hundred times right? Big game, cold winter night, the students decide to storm the court to celebrate. As a college administrator I can see why students love it, why admissions department and campus marketers savor those moments, and frankly, why it looks so much damn fun! Whats not to like?
Except, I hate it. I have to say, for the first time in my life I am in 100% agreement with Kansas Head Coach Bill Self that this ritual is not only getting out of hand but has become quite dangerous. Sure injuries are rare but as soccer stadiums have proven, when crowds get over excited then tragedy can happen at any moment. Students can get trampled, players can get hurt, and there is little security can do about it. As this video posted to YouTube shows the fans were right on top of the court before any of the Kansas players or personnel could get off the court. The K-State fans reportedly elbowed and pushed the Kansas players repeatedly and yelled insults and screamed in their faces. As this photo shows the Wildcat fans did so with little regard for anyone but themselves. Now, this is not a condemnation of Kansas State students because this could have been anywhere. I am sure K-State students are no more good or bad than any other college student section. But, it just so happens that the incident in question happened in Manhattan. Watching the videos and pictures you can see the bleachers empty at an alarmingly fast rate, the students form a human tidal wave toward the center of the court, and plenty of students trip, fall, and otherwise put themselves in harm’s way. Luckily no one got injured.
I am fundamentally against this form of celebration for three reasons. First, the danger of such a spontaneous act cannot be understated. When people move in a rush like that people can get trampled, students can fall on the stairs, and panic can set in as the melee spirals out of control. This is issue number one. But there are two other issues that concern me. The first relates to the players on the losing team. They are caught, and the environment can get scary. I am actually surprised that a player has not thrown a punch or two in an effort to get out or out of frustration. So, a big ups to these players for showing tremendous restraint. But let’s suppose that these players did react and did so violently. The narrative would be so different. Remember the Malice in the Palace? I can easily see another scenario play out like this when emotions are running high and 18 year old basketball players, still stinging from a loss, throwing a few hay makers, And guess who would be a fault? The players, all day. It is a no win situation all because we don’t want to take away the fun.
The third is more nuanced and is based more in my own perception. I am sure that there are not statistics kept on this type of celebration but it seems that court stormings are more and more of a common occurrence. Students storm the court for ANY kind of big win. Last year students at the University of North Carolina stormed the court after defeating Duke. In what universe is this justified? As a UNC fan the idea of storming the court when we beat Duke is insane!! This series is so balanced there was a point during last week’s game that their point totals over the course of the past 88 games was exactly tied. Want proof, check here (I know, the picture is all messed up, not great at this yet.) The point is, I am not sure students are storming the court because they love basketball but more so to inject themselves into the game in a selfish way. And that needs to stop. Its disruptive and its dangerous. Recently the SEC banned running on the court and I think more conferences should consider it too.