Field/court storming ‘jumped the shark’ for me eight years ago.
Before then, I had always thought it was cool. In late fall of 1996, I watched from the field as my brother helped carry off the goal posts after a hapless Iowa State team beat an even more pathetic Baylor squad to earn its only victory of that season.
Just three years later, in Fayetteville, I was interviewing Arkansas football players in a sea of humanity in the aftermath of the Hogs’ win over Tennessee to avenge a heartbreaking defeat in Knoxville the year before. Dodging fans and goal posts that day was an adventure, but it was exciting being a cub reporter in my early 20s.
In 2015, Iowa State beat Iowa, 83-82, in a heated, emotional in-state rivalry basketball game, and my opinion on the matter changed in an instant. Longtime Des Moines Register Iowa State beat writer Randy Peterson was knocked to the ground as the students flooded the Hilton Coliseum playing floor. Instead of covering the postgame press conference chronicling the biggest sporting even in Iowa, he was on his way to a hospital emergency room with a broken tibia and fibula.
Even after enduring surgery, Peterson didn’t blame the students or lobby for rules to tighten on court storming.
“I’m OK with it,” Peterson said on The Dan Patrick Show later. “Let the people who need to get off the floor first get off the floor and the students can celebrate all they want.”
The problem is, that kind of calculated delay isn’t happening now and won’t be happening in the future. Part of the fun is racing to be first on the playing surface – to get out there quick and not worry about who, or what, is in the way. A ‘cooling off’ period takes away from the spontaneity that makes it such an adrenaline rush.
The SEC has taken notice and has observed as their member institution fans have led the way in these festivities, including when Arkansas fans poured on to the court at Bud Walton Arena after an upset win over Auburn that was punctuated with an emphatic Devo Davis dunk.
SEC Football’s New Policy on Fan Rushing
SEC brass had seen that a series of fines (up to $250,000) for offending parties had done little to curtail the postgame rowdiness after big wins. So, earlier this summer, they decided to more or less double down on their penalties. The first field-storming offense will now cost the home school $100,000, up from $50,000; the second will cost $250,000, up from $100,000; and the third and subsequent violations will cost $500,000 each, up from $250,000.
In the spring, the SEC had considered a couple extreme measures on top of the doubled fines. The Tennessee upset win over Alabama where Tide receiver Jermaine Burton hit a Vols fan during the orange pandemonium may have been the final straw in motivating these potential harsher measures.
The less extreme proposal called for an offending school to forfeit the next home game against that school. For example, if Arkansas beat LSU and fans ran on the field to celebrate the hoisting of The Golden Boot trophy, the next two conference games would have been played in Baton Rouge instead of rotating back to Fayetteville. That would have been a major deterrent for fans. Who wants to cost their team a critical conference home game in the most brutal league in college football?
“The only way to stop the fans is to stop them from even considering it,” one SEC athletic director told Yahoo Sports. “We don’t have enough police or security to prevent it once they get moving.”
Well, they should have figured it out by now. Aug. 1 was the deadline for each school providing the SEC with a detailed field/court rush management plan, including how the university will communicate with fans to discourage them from coming onto the playing surface, according to Campus Safety.
Arkansas Basketball: Most Likely Court Storming
Looking ahead, the most likely court-storming possibility at Bud Walton Arena in the 2023-24 season would come early on, in the Nov. 29 matchup with powerhouse Duke. If both teams enter that game ranked highly, or if a lower-ranked Arkansas edges past a top-ranked Duke squad in an emotional finish, the game has the potential to cause Auburn flashbacks.
On the Arkansas football side of things, the Hogs don’t play the likes of LSU or Alabama at home this season, so a field storming seems highly unlikely. Perhaps if both Arkansas and Missouri were top-15 teams coming into the regular-season finale, and the Hogs cemented a berth in a New Year’s Day bowl with a “kick six” type finish, then folks would rush the field, but that’s an awful lot of “what ifs” to come true.
Regardless of what happens, I hope fans stay in their seats. You can print me an AARP card here, but 25 years in this business and numerous examples of storming gone wrong have convinced me it’s time to halt the tradition for good. It is a safety issue for fans, players and media and support staff and could be costly for schools as goal posts go down and other damage could be sustained (see: trampled hedges at various SEC stadiums).
The SEC office was right to act swiftly and consider a heavy-handed approach in this situation. I think they should should have gone beyond simply doubling the fines, as such penalties in the past haven’t proven to be a deterrent. I say hit the programs/fans where it really hurts with sanctions that may affect outcomes on the field.
Then, postgame celebrations will occur in the stands where they belong.
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