Kansas State University

Kansas State says it ‘fell short’ with security as court storming issue takes center stage

K-State’s Nino Williams was running off the floor while students were running on it after the Wildcats’ victory Monday night.
K-State’s Nino Williams was running off the floor while students were running on it after the Wildcats’ victory Monday night. The Kansas City Star

All it took was 7.3 seconds. From the time the buzzer sounded to the moment two Division I men’s basketball coaches were pinned against a crowd, the Bramlage Coliseum floor had become completely enveloped in purple T-shirts and sweaty college students.

In just a little more time than it takes to shoot a free throw, Kansas’ Bill Self and Kansas State’s Bruce Weber were smashed up against a scorer’s table, KU’s Jamari Traylor was the victim of a running hip check from an overzealous K-State fan, and KU assistant coach Kurtis Townsend had grabbed a K-State student around the collar as bedlam reigned.

This was the scene Monday night, a chaotic celebration in the moments after Kansas State’s 70-63 upset victory over No. 8 Kansas in the latest chapter of the Sunflower Showdown. This was also the 7.3 seconds replayed over and over again on Tuesday as the postgame scene in Manhattan sparked a daylong debate on the dangers and merits of the age-old college sports tradition of court storming.

“This has to stop,” Self said late Monday night in the moments after the wild celebration.

Self, though, was speaking specifically about security issues at Bramlage, not the act of court storming itself, which added a layer of nuance to the ongoing debate.

There are those, for instance, who believe that court storming — and fans rushing the field in college football — should be a thing of the past, that the act itself feels like something from a bygone era. There are those who believe that college students should be able to rush the floor at their own volition. And there are those who believe that the tradition can continue if the right security measures and policies are set in place.

“I love the students,” Weber said on Monday. “And it is a cool thing to be a part of that. But you also have to be careful of making sure nobody gets hurt.”

Few would argue that having 4,000 college students flood wildly onto a basketball court at the buzzer is a totally safe endeavor. But who wants to stand up against college fun?

There’s at least one. Barry Geisler, the general manager of the George Mason University Patriot Center, believes the tradition needs to stop.

“People who run venues are concerned that fans can get hurt just by being so exuberant,” Geisler said Tuesday, speaking on ESPN’s “Outside The Lines” program. “The whole issue of court storming needs to be looked at from a cultural issue. Is this something that’s permissible and acceptable?”

Viewed through another lens, the act of court storming — and the debate it sparks — can boil down to a simple question of freedom versus safety. The madness in Manhattan simply put the question back to the forefront.

“It’s fine if you want to celebrate when you beat us, that’s your business. That’s fine,” Self said. “But at least it shouldn’t put anybody at risk from a safety standpoint.”

On Tuesday, officials from both K-State and KU spent the morning preparing official statements as both schools sorted through the events of Monday night.

First, K-State athletic director John Currie apologized to his school president and KU, saying the Wildcats “fell short” of their security responsibilities while students sprinted onto the court to celebrate.

“Our security staff … was unable to get into proper position quickly enough last night and was overwhelmed by the fans rushing the floor,” Currie said in a statement.

“Although no one was hurt last night, we fell short of our expectations for securing the court and escorting KU to its locker room without incident. We are disappointed that we did not do better.”

Then, K-State police asked for help identifying a Wildcats fan who appeared to deliberately collide shoulder-first with Traylor.

After that, KU officials issued a statement in support of Townsend for grabbing a K-State fan who was taunting and gesturing at a group of KU players trying to exit the floor.

“Kurtis Townsend was appropriately attempting to protect KU players from a fan who appeared to be approaching several of our players,” KU associate athletic director Jim Marchiony said.

ESPN dedicated the entirety of its “Outside the Lines” broadcast to the incident, with host Andy Katz wondering if it could serve as a tipping point for change.

The wild scene began when K-State students poured onto the floor the moment the final buzzer sounded. It has been a disappointing season for the Wildcats, who are 14-15 overall and 7-9 in the Big 12, but this was reason to celebrate. In past years, K-State has used security to rope off an area near the scorer’s table so coaches and players can exchange postgame handshakes and exit the court without fan interaction.

But Currie said K-State players climbed on top of the scorer’s table immediately after the game instead of meeting at midcourt, where most court stormings are centered. That made it impossible for late-arriving security to form a wall between fans and the visiting team.

“It is disingenuous to start saying this happened or that happened because it sounds like you are making excuses,” Currie said. “We just did not get out as fast as we were able to get out last year. … Regardless, we should have done a better job. We should have been out there. Our people feel very badly about it.”

A wave of bodies ended up beating K-State security to the scorer’s table, pushing Self and Weber up against it. As they stood pressed together, pinned near the sideline, Weber extended his arms and tried to shield Self as they were mashed together.

“Finally, I said, ‘To heck with it,’ and started pushing people out of the way, which is sad,” Weber said. “You want to enjoy it but also be respectful of your opponent and make sure they get off the court safely.”

Self was also displeased. It was the third time this month Kansas has witnessed a court storming. Oklahoma State and West Virginia did the same following upset victories.

“There were several students that hit our players (Monday night),” Self said. “I’m not saying like with a fist, but when you storm the court, you run in, you bump everybody.”

Currie said fans who deliberately made contact with a Kansas player would face consequences, including criminal charges and banishment from future K-State sporting events.

“We are actively reviewing video and working in concert with law enforcement to identify any fan who intentionally touched visiting players or personnel,” Currie said. “We will take appropriate action with such identified persons, including turning over all evidence to law enforcement so that any applicable charges can be filed.”

Later Monday, the K-State student newspaper posted a letter from a student who said he was the one who ran into Traylor and offered an apology for his behavior.

The scene inside Bramlage Coliseum on Monday was the latest court storming incident to come under the national microscope. But schools and venues have struggled to manage the phenomenon for years.

Two years ago, Jeff Champigny stood inside John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, Va., as the University of Virginia finished off an upset victory over Duke. Champigny, an account manager for an event company, was contracted by Virginia to coordinate security for basketball games, and in the hours before the game, his team had met to go over the plan for a court rush.

When the final buzzer sounded, the security team, dressed in yellow jackets, locked arms and formed a human barrier, creating a pathway for both teams to shake hands and exit the floor.

The video of that day, Champigny told The Star on Tuesday, shows the ideal template for providing security during a court storm.

I “just wish folks would prepare for these sort of incidents,” Champigny said. “Someone is going to get hurt.”

A similar plan was executed last week at West Virginia when the Mountaineers defeated Kansas and the student section flooded onto the floor without incident. For proponents of floor rushing — or at least those not opposed — these provide examples that most court storming celebrations amount to nothing but harmless fun and joy. Moreover, they add to the charm of college sports.

Still, detractors point to the odds that at some point something terrible could happen. Last season, a court storming at Utah Valley after an upset over New Mexico State ignited a melee that involved players and fans. In the moments after the game, New Mexico State guard K.C. Ross-Miller hurled the ball at Utah Valley’s Holton Hunsaker as Utah Valley fans spilled onto the floor.

C.J. Leslie of North Carolina State rescued a disabled student who had fallen from his wheelchair during a court storming after beating Duke.

In extremely rare cases, the act has led to tragedy. In 2004, Tucson (Ariz.) High player Joe Kay was left partially paralyzed when he was trampled by fans who stormed the court to celebrate his team’s victory.

For Self, the real fear is that a fan could spur a reaction from an emotional player in the wake of a loss.

“You’re asking for big problems,” Self said on Monday. “Because somebody’s going to hit a player, and the player’s going to retaliate, and you’re going to have lawsuits and cases, and it’s just not right.”

As the debate continued on Tuesday, some wondered if this might be a tipping point. Are the days of the court storm numbered? Self is among those who aren’t so sure.

Every year, there will be a new crop of college students. And each year there will be more upsets and more opportunities for students to express their college freedom on national television. For the moment at least, the rush is likely to continue.

“If you do it, at least do it around center court,” Self said. “Don’t do it at the other bench.”

Currie, who worked at Tennessee when the Southeastern Conference implemented its court storming fines, wants to see it all stop. The Big 12 does not have a rule against court storming.

“I am 100 percent against court storming,” Currie said. “I am against field storming.

“That takes a little fun out of it, right? But I am risk management, and I think it is not safe and it is not a good idea. We should do everything we can to prevent it.”

Star news services contributed to this report.

To reach Kellis Robinett, send email to krobinett@kcstar.com. Twitter: @KellisRobinett.

To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to rdodd@kcstar.com. Twitter: @rustindodd.

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