Rushing the Court: Fun Celebration or Annoying Safety Risk?

By Michael Citro on March 2, 2014 at 8:15a

When Penn State beat No. 22 (as in not No. 2) Ohio State on Thursday night in Happy Valley, the few jubilant Nittany Lions fans in attendance rushed the court in celebration. This, after the win improved the Nitts to 5-10 in the conference and 14-14 overall.

Predictably, there was outrage and ridicule about the court storming all over Twitter and message boards — both by Ohio State fans, who were understandably grumpy about the game, and by third party hoops aficionados with no dog in the fight but who are simply anti-court storming folk.

Personally, I was fine with it.

It’s kind of flattering, if you think about it. Penn State basketball has been so dire for so long that the prospect of beating one of Ohio State’s most mediocre teams in the Thad Matta era is worthy of delirium among its proponents.

That’s not just any old Buckeyes squad they beat, it’s the Big Ten’s fourth or fifth best team, darn it!

Generally speaking, I’m ok with the concept of court storming, however silly it may be. The exception is when someone is put in harm’s way. There have been a few instances of injury to both spectators and athletes in the mayhem that is a good ol’ fashioned court stormin’.

That’s not ok. I’m more a fan of an orderly court storming, I guess. But that’s not generally the way it works.

 I’ve never seen a court storming that appeared to be staged, although it would be hard to tell that on television.  Are student cheering sections inciting this now? I ask the question because I honestly don’t know.

I’ve never stormed a basketball court, but have been part of some field-storming in football. And I can’t exactly tell you why I did it.

I’m sure the catalyst is the general euphoria of seeing your team win the game.

No Ohio State fan thought this court rush was a bad idea.
Photo AP/Terry GIlliam

But why does an individual rush the field/court? Having done it myself, I have given this a lot of thought. And the thing that sticks out in my mind is that there was never a conscious decision on my part to do so.

When the Buckeyes beat No. 1 Iowa in the Horseshoe in 1985, I can recall the feeling of happiness build throughout the game, especially in the late going when it became obvious Ohio State would win. I recall counting down the final seconds with the rest of the crowd – “five, four, three, two, ONE! YEAAAAHHH!!”

And then…well, there is a palpable surge of emotion, as if staying in your seat (or, more accurately, standing in front of your seat) is simply insufficient and some kind of release is required. When you see others pouring out of the stands, some kind of instinct kicks in. You simply follow. Unless you’re in C Deck.

What is this instinct? Perhaps it’s a remnant of the tribalism embedded in all of us since our ancestors announced their wedding by clubbing their mate in the head and dragging them back to the cave. Suddenly you’re not using conscious thought, but instinctively participating in the same ritual as the tribe — in this case, the tribe known as “Ohio State fan.” (Or whatever school for which you are court/field rushing.)

It might be a smart thing to outlaw the practice of court/field rushing. After all, if it prevents even one serious injury, it’s worth doing from a practical standpoint.

But it would certainly be a buzzkill.

Legislating an end to rushing the basketball court or football field would take away some of the spontaneous passion of college sports. The rule would probably be ignored at times, forcing the NCAA to take further action. Next thing you know, the fields and courts of collegiate sports would be surrounded by a partition akin to the boards at a hockey arena.

But college kids being who they are, would that even stop them? Might that not even lead to more serious injuries from people trying to scale such barriers? It’s not hard to imagine a horde of people crushing the unlucky ones up front, who have no way to escape. It would not be the first time sports fans were killed in such a manner.

I expect that the storming behavior could be altered over time. But at what cost between now and then? Maybe only a cost in dollars. Potentially the cost of lives.

It’s easy to sit back and say people have no one to blame but themselves if they were to become harmed through rushing the court. But if barriers were erected and crushing deaths occurred, who would be held liable? Our society’s history tells us that it probably wouldn’t be those who participated in the rushing.

I don’t have the answers. I only know that rushing the field has produced memories for me that I cherish. Tearing down the goal posts on a rainy November afternoon in 1985 will stay with me forever. I’d hate for others to miss out on similar experiences. But I see the need to keep everyone — athletes, fans, and event workers — safe.

That said, I’m a proponent for fun. There probably needs to be a compromise of some kind between allowing and forbidding the rushing of a court or field. I don’t know what it is, but until then, I’ll enjoy the court rushing and silently hope that no one gets hurt.

Court rush responsibly, friends.

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