July 22, 2024

Sports Enthusiast

Professional Sports Purveyors

Don’t expect college hoops’ court-storming problem to get fixed after latest run-in featuring Duke’s Kyle Filipowski

Don’t expect college hoops’ court-storming problem to get fixed after latest run-in featuring Duke’s Kyle Filipowski

Duke's Kyle Filipowski holds his bloodied nose as he leaves the floor during the second half against Wake Forest. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Jon Scheyer wasted no time Saturday afternoon reigniting college basketball’s most contentious debate.

“When are we going to ban court storming?” the second-year Duke coach asked reporters only minutes after Kyle Filipowski didn’t have time to escape a tidal wave of on-rushing Wake Forest fans at the end of the Demon Deacons’ 83-79 upset victory.

On the surface, you’d think the sight of Filipowski wincing in pain as his teammates helped him off the floor might be enough to spark serious discussion. Filipowski, a projected All-American and first-round draft pick, is one of men’s college basketball’s best-known players. Scheyer initially told reporters the 7-footer suffered a sprained ankle during the court storm. Filipowski later clarified that it was his knee that was hurt.

And yet recent history suggests that Wake Forest fans plowing into Filipowski won’t result in meaningful change. The uproar after every new court-storming incident eventually fizzles out. Then administrators inevitably decide that the fun outweighs the risks.

Nothing changed in 2004 when high school senior Joe Kay suffered court-storming injuries that left him partially paralyzed and prevented him from playing volleyball for Stanford.

Nothing changed in 2013 when NC State forward C.J. Leslie had to lift a fellow student to safety after he was thrown from his wheelchair during a court-storming incident.

Nothing changed when New Mexico State players exchanged punches with on-rushing fans. Or when Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger accused a Wisconsin fan of spitting on him. Or when unruly Kansas State fans taunted and body-checked Kansas players. Or when a Des Moines Register columnist fractured his tibia and fibula after getting knocked to the ground.

Not even warnings from some of the most prominent figures in the sport have resonated. It went ignored earlier this season when Purdue’s Matt Painter cautioned after a court storm at his team’s expense, “Something’s going to happen.” And when Iowa’s Caitlin Clark said last month that a cell phone-toting Ohio State fan who collided with her “could have caused a pretty serious injury.”

The sad reality is that meaningful change will require more than a close call. It’s going to take someone suffering life-altering injuries like Kay’s but on national television.

Filipowski is lucky something worse didn’t happen to him. Wake Forest appeared dangerously ill-prepared for a court storming considering the Demon Deacons were facing eighth-ranked Duke, of all teams.

Students spilled onto the floor before the game clock hit double zeroes and engulfed Filipowski soon after that. Filipowski shoved one out of the way in an apparent attempt to try to protect himself. Another pushed the Duke star in the back. A third collided with him at full speed, sending him spinning. Only after that did a Duke staffer reach him and pull him to safety.

“I absolutely feel like it was personal, you know, intentional for sure,” Filipowski told Greensboro CBS affiliate WFMY after the game. “There is no reason why they see a big guy like me trying to work my way off the court and they can’t just work around me. There’s no excuse for that.”

Wake Forest athletic director John Currie said in a statement that he expressed “sincere regret” in phone conversations with Duke administrators after Saturday’s game.

“Although our event management staff and security had rehearsed postgame procedures to protect the visiting team and officials,” Currie continued, “we clearly must do better.”

The simplest fix that schools need to make to avoid incidents like this is to prepare better than Wake Forest apparently did. Hire more security when Duke or Kentucky comes to town. Have a plan in place to keep players safe when facing a top-10 opponent or a hated rival.

Beyond that, there’s no solution that will satisfy everyone, no easy fix that will prevent serious injuries without sacrificing some of the spontaneity and fun that separates college basketball from other sports.

The best option might be trying to delay court stormings long enough to give opposing players and coaches time to get off the floor after a big upset or buzzer-beater. To make that work, there would need a significant deterrent for fans who come onto the court ahead of time.

The SEC currently fines schools $100,000 for a first court-storming offense, $250,000 for a second offense and $500,000 apiece for subsequent offenses. That, of course, didn’t stop LSU fans from streaming onto the court earlier this week after the Tigers took down Kentucky.

Schools might actually beef up security if the fines were larger or if conferences borrowed from European soccer and made teams play their next home game in empty arenas as punishment. Or the conferences could even identify individual fans and punish them by pulling season tickets or threatening expulsion from school or even jail time.

Court storming may be a beloved college basketball tradition, but no tradition is worth preserving if it’s inevitably going to lead to an ugly scene or brutal injury one day.

As Wake Forest coach Steve Forbes said Saturday, “I don’t like court stormings. Never have. I’ve been part of those before as a coach. You just don’t feel safe.”