Eye on the Storm: Recent events bring state of court-storming into question

Eye on the Storm: Recent events bring state of court-storming into question

Wake Forest fans storm the court after a basketball game against Duke at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Charlotte, North Carolina, recently. More and more incidents have raised questions about regulations. (Photo by David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Wake Forest fans storm the court after a basketball game against Duke at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Charlotte, North Carolina, recently. More and more incidents have raised questions about regulations. (Photo by David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

PHOENIX – Buzzer-beaters, upset victories, championship titles. Many circumstances exist that may result in fans storming the court, or field, depending on the sport, but for administrators and athletic department faculty members, a fan’s dream can be a safety nightmare.

As a topic that has plagued the ecosystem of college athletics in recent months, arena safety remains all the more important now that March Madness has arrived, with the Final Four games slated to begin on April 6 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale. With so many eyeballs focused and brackets drawn up, the NCAA has plans in place to ensure the best chance at success on the biggest stage.

“The national office works with host venue security and law enforcement to put necessary security plans into place,” said Michelle Brutlag Hosick, the NCAA’s director of external communications.

Hosick also mentioned that the actual design of the court can aid in player safety, such as a raised floor in the men’s Final Four and physical barriers for the women’s bracket.

Earlier this year, on Jan. 21, the sports world endured a scare when Iowa women’s basketball star Caitlin Clark, who has the most points by a men’s or women’s Division I basketball player, was knocked to the ground during the court-storming that occurred after then No. 18-ranked Ohio State defeated previously No. 2 Iowa, 100-92, during overtime in front of a packed house of Buckeye fans.

Potential discipline

ESPN reported recently that 11 conferences have language in their rulebooks that allows for disciplinary measures and potential fines to be allotted to schools where a court-storming occurs, but only under certain circumstances.

The ACC was not included in that 11-conference list.

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Arizona State men’s basketball player Bobby Hurley, a junior, saw both the Clark and Filipowski incidents on social media and remembered empathizing with the players involved.

Hurley witnessed a court-storming during his freshman season as a Sun Devils player after ASU defeated No.3-ranked UCLA, 87-84, in a three-overtime game in 2022.

“In a close game like that where I’m guessing Kyle Filipowski is thinking about the game and what he’s trying to accomplish, he’s not really thinking about, ‘Oh I have to jog to get off the court,’” Hurley said.

Regardless of the fans’ intentions in Filipowki’s case or the thoughts going through his mind in the moment, Samuel Sommers, chair of the psychology department at Tufts University, has a lot of thoughts on the practice of court-storming.

Sommers describes himself as both a social psychologist and “big sports fan” and has even partnered with Sports Illustrated Executive Editor and Senior Writer L. Jon Wertheim in the past to co-author a book titled “This Is Your Brain on Sports: The Science of Underdogs, the Value of Rivalry, and What We Can Learn from the T-Shirt Cannon.”

With Michigan as his alma mater, Sommers has first-hand experience with storming the field, recalling a heated matchup where he watched the Wolverines emerge victorious with Tom Brady as quarterback against their bitter rivals, Ohio State.

“When we see other people acting in a particular way, we become more likely to perhaps do the same thing,” Sommers said. “It can lessen some of the restrictions that we feel against those kinds of behaviors … it can make us feel both anonymous in the sense that we can get away with other things, but also part of a greater sort of entity.”

In many cases, these high-profile collegiate court-stormings are subject to large amounts of media coverage that are in turn viewed by many high school students. With the postseason for high school basketball occupying a large portion of the February calendar in Arizona, this topic became all the more important last month.

“I think kids today see storming the court on ESPN every night of the week when there’s a big upset, and that becomes what you’re supposed to do,” said Steve Shaff, Brophy College Prep sports information director.

Sommers seemed to agree with Shaff’s point.

“No one posts on Instagram or TikTok the video of the crowd that cheers politely at the end of the game and walks out. No one cares,” Sommers said. “You see the extremes being posted.”

Brophy Prep was ranked No. 9 in Arizona’s Open Division entering the boys basketball playoffs this year after a successful season, and Shaff mentioned the importance of communication ahead of games that are expected to draw larger crowds.

“I think number one, we work with our student council and student activities … and we’re looking at the leaders of those to be the role models for how we’re supposed to behave,” Shaff said. “We also have adults stationed at games who make sure that our kids do the right things.”

David Hines, executive director of the Arizona Interscholastic Association, echoed the importance of information, and explained that while the AIA is responsible for coordinating with administration of the schools, it is then the job of faculty members to relay expectations to their students.

The majority of this communication comes from conference meetings that are held at the AIA office with about 24 district athletic directors who represent nearly 150 schools across the state. Additionally, reminder emails are sent out to athletic directors to aid in transparency between the AIA and school levels.

“We talk to our administrators to say, ‘If you’re in a game like this, we need you down on the floor in front of your kids because they’re familiar with you,’” Hines said. “They’re not necessarily familiar with us at the office running the event.”

The 18,660 fans in attendance set a new Ohio State women’s basketball program record and made for quite the pandemonium when the game ended.

Iowa Hawkeyes guard Caitlin Clark, right, falls down on the court after a fan who was storming the court collided with her following a game at Ohio State. Clark said, “I was just trying to exit the court as quickly as possible.” (Photo by Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“I was just trying to exit the court as quickly as possible,” Clark told reporters after the game, “so I started running and I was absolutely just hammered by somebody trying to run onto the court.”

Although Clark did not sustain any injuries, a more recent incident on the men’s side did not bear the same results.

After Wake Forest defeated then eighth-ranked Duke, 83-79, on the Demon Deacons’ home court, the court was quickly engulfed by a wave of excited fans. In the blink of an eye, 7-foot sophomore Duke center Kyle Filipowski found himself in a dangerous situation.

After a fan collided with Filipowski, he was forced to hobble off of the court while being helped to the locker room.

“I feel like it was personal, intentional for sure. There’s no excuse for that,” Filiposwki said.

Blue Devils coach Jon Scheyer said that his center sprained his ankle and asked in the post game press conference, “When are we going to ban court-storming?”

The gravity of the incident prompted ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips to release a statement.

“The safety of our student-athletes is always our top priority. We have been and will continue to be in contact with both Duke and Wake Forest regarding what happened,” Phillips said.

Is more regulation needed?

Despite the argument that administrators have more of a connection with their students, Sommers believes that if there was ever a time where entities like the AIA wanted to completely eliminate court-storming, there would have to be more-uniform policies set in place at higher levels to create uniformity. For Sommers, the school-by-school nature of the regulation would foster a confusing environment within the already very difficult task of altering tradition.

“You take the parallel to parents that, if one parent lets you do this the other one doesn’t, or you go to your friend’s house and the rules are different,” Sommers said.

Non-educated fans are one of the biggest dangers to safety in Hines’ mind, and while schools that possess shinier trophy cabinets usually have a more rule-savvy fan base, others need extra guidance in preparation for the big moments.

“If you have a school that comes for the first time, and they’re really excited, and all of a sudden you win one. Maybe you win one on a last-second shot or a catch in the end zone at the last minute, they get excited,” Hines said. “And what do they see in college games?”

One particular Arizona high school boy’s basketball court-storming incident still haunts the minds of many even 20 years after its occurrence.

On Friday, Feb. 6, 2004, Tucson High won 62-54 at home against Salpointe Catholic, which had captured the Class 5A boys basketball championship the year before. The school’s athletic director at the time, Herman House, estimated that there were about 1,000 fans in attendance and about 200 participated in rushing the court once the clock hit zero, the Associated Press reported.

After drawing a lot of attention by scoring a key dunk with just a few minutes left to play, senior Joe Kay was right in the middle of the chaos. Tucson High coach Gary Lewis said a torn carotid artery and a cracked portion of Kay’s jaw triggered a stroke that left him without movement in his right arm and right leg.

Kay was not only a starter on the basketball team, but also a key player for the school’s volleyball squad as well, earning a volleyball scholarship to Stanford, while also maintaining a 4.0 grade point average, according to House and Lewis. Yet, his life was permanently altered in an instant.

“Twenty years have passed and I’m still disabled,’’ Kay told the Arizona Daily Star recently. “Every time I see people rush the court, it’s ridiculous. It’s bull. The college kids act like this is a rite of passage for them. It’s BS. Are they going to wait until someone gets hurt the way I did? My body will be constantly affected until I die.’’

Two decades later, schools are still trying to find the right formula for an environment that is safe for all parties involved.

Indoor gyms pose greater crowd control issues, and in the second half of February, local Valley high schools prepared their student sections for the basketball postseason. At Sunnyslope High School, fans packed the gymnasium to maximum capacity to watch the Vikings host Millennium on Feb. 23 for the AZPreps365 game of the week.

The noise was impressive, and even first-quarter highlight plays sounded like game-deciding moments. To put it simply, there was not much elbow room, especially in the student sections.
Unfortunately, not all fans had the opportunity to watch as administrators turned away disappointed high schoolers at the door.

“It’s usually a packed gym, but it’s never this bad,” Sunnyslope senior Gavin Eagar said after he was unable to buy a ticket at the entrance alongside two of his classmates.

Sunnyslope principal Jonathan Parker was standing outside of the school’s entrance to the gym and breaking the bad news to fans who had delayed buying their ticket at the last minute.

After setting the limit on the number of tickets available at 1,100 on a popular high school ticketing app called GoFan, Parker mentioned that the ability to purchase tickets at the door was halted about 30 minutes prior to tipoff.

Caution tape serves as a thin barrier between home and visiting fans at Sunnyslope High School during a sold-out playoff game in February. (Photo by Maxwell Williams/Cronkite News)

The challenge of crowds

Trying to limit the number of fans in the building is one thing, but managing the crowd poses an entirely different feat for an administrative team.

“All hands on deck,” Parker said. “We’re doing double or triple the usual staffing that we would for a regular season Thursday night home game.”

With a mixture of law enforcement, security personnel and faculty members, there was a definite emphasis on keeping the entrance to the gym safe, but only John Lovell, assistant principal for discipline and attendance, stood as the line of defense between the first row of the home student section and the sideline.

“We have most of our administrative team here covering for safety,” Lovell said. “I’m specifically tasked with the student section to make sure they act appropriately and don’t do anything that is hazardous for the players.”

Lovell also said that a staff member was assigned to the visiting student section, which just about matched the size of the home students and was equally as passionate.

They also had plenty to cheer for, as Millennium took a 25-8 lead with about six minutes left in the first half and held on for the rest of the game. Despite the Vikings’ best attempts at a comeback and some fourth-quarter heroics, Millennium took home the victory, 56-50. This time, there were no students storming the court and no injuries.

“Having the fans here, it’s unreal,” Millennium’s star sophomore Cameron Holmes said. “Sunnyslope, they have one heck of a student section, and our student section matched that so I’m so proud of them.”

Court-storming is a challenge, even at the high school level. Students, like these from Perry High School, celebrate during and after games, and sometimes that means charging onto the court. (Photo by Ethan Briggs/Cronkite News)

Even with players and fans accounted for, others involved can still be put in harm’s way. Randy Peterson has worked as a sports columnist for the Des Moines Register for the past 52 years and has built a successful career out of becoming an expert in all things revolving around the Iowa State Cyclones.

Peterson is a regular at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa, and he feels that he can practically navigate through the arena blindfolded after taking the exact same route from his credentialed spot to the media room every game for half of a century.

After the clock hit zeroes in a one-point Iowa State victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes in 2015, Peterson got “about three quarters of the way” off the court before he was overwhelmed by the fans and was left with a fractured tibia and fibula.

“When you see hundreds of people coming at you in a frenetic mode, you don’t know how you’re going to react,” Peterson said.

Peterson mentioned that at the time of his injury media personnel used to be stationed along the baseline right up against the action, with students seated at the sections directly behind and across from the designated media space.

Now, Peterson and other members of the media sit much higher up from the floor, which kept him out of harm’s way during a court-storming earlier this season when Iowa State came away with a 79-75 win against Kansas in January. Peterson credited the security team stationed at the game for executing a “perfect” game plan for ensuring that players and fans alike were not injured.

Court-stormings are inevitable in the eyes of Peterson, and he believes that security measures should not infringe on the fan experience.

“Students, they’re the lifeline of the universities,” Peterson said. “They need to stay close to the floor, and I hope that the actions of a few don’t cause drastic outcomes for the majority.”

It’s no question that passion lies at the heart of sports fandom. For many, high school sports specifically can yield some of the greatest core memories. So does court-storming still have a place in the sports world if executed properly?

Hamilton High School’s reputation precedes it as one of the biggest powerhouses in Arizona high school sports. Athletic Director and former Arizona State University football player Brett Palmer spoke highly about the school spirit and the effect that it has on performance.

“I’ll commend our student section and our community,” Palmer said. “Are we perfect? No, but they’ve done a very good job of cheering for Hamilton, bringing that passion and energy and giving us that home field or court advantage.”

The “Dawg Pound,” as the Hamilton student section calls itself, is a crucial part of any sporting environment at the school, and is even a club that students can be a part of.

Palmer explained that establishing a relationship with both the students usually toward the front of the stands and student organizations like student council can build the trust that is necessary to implement rules and regulations during the big games.

“You have to build up that credibility,” Palmer said. “You can’t just come out on a Friday night or a Wednesday night basketball game and say, ‘Hey, do this.’ You have to earn that respect.”

Palmer sees the court-stormings on social media just like the rest of his students and feels that the practice should not be eradicated.

“Whether it’s college or high school, you still have to prepare, you have to plan and communicate,” Palmer said. “Do I think it’s good for sports? Yes. Do I think it can be dangerous? Yes, absolutely.”

Maxwell Williams

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Maxwell Williams expects to graduate in Spring 2026 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in Spanish linguistic studies. Williams has written for the East Valley Tribune.