Court storming & fights: Are we surprised?

BY JEREMY HOECK
jeremy.hoeck@yankton.net

When you have such varying degrees of emotion following a sporting event and fans become involved on the field of play, it’s only inevitable those situations turn ugly.

That exact thing happened Thursday night in Orem, Utah.

A player for New Mexico State threw a basketball at a Utah Valley player out of frustration at the end of their game (won by UVU in overtime), and it all boiled out on the court after fans rushed out of the stands.

In short: Punches were thrown, and NMSU players and fans had to be separated. Fortunately, there were no reports of any serious injuries.

University of South Dakota fans will remember Utah Valley — its same men’s basketball team played in Vermillion back in December — and the location, the Great West Conference tournaments were once held in Orem.

But my question is rather simple: Are we surprised this happened?

No? OK good, it’s far from surprising. In fact, I’m amazed this doesn’t happen more often.

Think of all the times you’re watching SportsCenter and you see footage of an upset victory, where the home crowd — typically the students — rushes the court in celebration.

What you usually don’t see is the opposing team off the court. In most cases, the losing team’s coaching staff and players are making their way back to the locker room. It’s during those moments where emotions could boil over: You have the frustration of the losing team mixed with the elation of the home fans.

While watching the highlights of Thursday’s fight, I got to thinking about something. Could I see that happening at a high school or college game around our area?

Yes, definitely.

Take Yankton High School, for example. There is a South Dakota state post-season policy in place that punishes schools whose fans prematurely rush the court. Sports editor James Cimburek and I couldn’t remember a time when Yankton students ran on to the basketball court after an upset win.

A football field, though, presents a different challenge because of the open space. Someone — or a group of people — could hop the fence and rush the field, and could conceivably get tangled up with opposing coaches or players.

Nebraska football fans will remember the name Kellen Huston, who was suspended after punching a Missouri fan during a crowd-storming back in 2003.

The best such example, of course, is the so-called ‘Malice At The Palace’ during a 2003 NBA game in Detroit, where Indiana Pacers players fought with fans. That was a situation where emotions clearly spilled over into the stands; though that was mostly Ron Artest reacting to a cup of water being thrown at him and attacking fans — and it turns out, the wrong fan at the onset.

Although that situation in Detroit was perhaps a unique situation, you could see where it could happen in a situation like a basketball game. Even at the DakotaDome in Vermillion, the University of South Dakota student section is located right near the visiting bench. Both times the Coyote men’s basketball team beat South Dakota State at the DakotaDome, USD students rushed the floor — though by that point, the Jackrabbit coaches and players were almost back in their locker room.

But think about it. A fight like Thursday night in Utah could obviously happen around here. And it wouldn’t take much of a spark.

No state policy or number of security on hand will prevent such a situation taking place. Not in a highly-intense, emotional atmosphere, where things happen in the heat of the moment that are apologized for later.

You just obviously hope something serious doesn’t happen.

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