Two days after West Virginia’s Wesley Harris struck a court-storming Texas Tech fan who bumped into him, the Big 12 handed down a notably light punishment.
The conference issued a public reprimand of Harris that won’t require the sophomore forward to miss any games or sit out any practices.
The Big 12 instead reserved its harsher criticism and penalties for Texas Tech because of the school’s inability to keep West Virginia players safe when a tidal wave of Red Raiders fans flooded the court in celebration of Saturday’s 73-72 victory. The conference fined Texas Tech $25,000 and publicly reprimanded the school after its fans overran a small contingent of security personnel on hand before many of the Mountaineers players could get off the floor.
“We have a duty to provide a safe game environment,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in a statement. “The Texas Tech Department of Athletics has a written event management policy which was unsuccessful in ensuring the safety and security of the visiting team game participants. Although the Big 12 Conference does not currently have a policy prohibiting spectators from entering playing areas for post-game celebrations, it is of utmost importance that home game management provide adequate security measures for our student-athletes, coaches, game officials and spectators.”
A West Virginia player threw a punch at a fan after the Texas Tech crowd stormed the court pic.twitter.com/rVfA0J2uRv
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) January 14, 2018
Saturday’s controversy will surely reignite the annual debate over whether court storming has a place in college basketball. It’s a discussion worth having considering some of the dangerous incidents that have occurred in recent years.
NC State forward C.J. Leslie had to lift Will Privette to safety after the senior was thrown from his wheelchair during the court storming that followed the Wolfpack’s upset of Duke. In Feb. 2014, a melee erupted at Utah Valley when New Mexico State players exchanged punches with on-rushing fans just after the final buzzer. In Feb. 2015, a knucklehead Kansas State rushed at Kansas forward Jamari Traylor and body checked him on his way off the floor and another Wildcats supporter taunted several Jayhawks players until a Kansas assistant intervened.
The most severe court storming injury of all came in Feb. 2004 when an avalanche of Tucson High students spilled onto the court after 6-foot-6 senior Joe Kay clinched a rivalry victory with a two-handed breakaway dunk. The torn carotid artery and stroke Kay suffered that day left him paralyzed on one side and robbed him of many of the gifts that enabled him to become the valedictorian of his class, win awards for his saxophone skills and earn a volleyball scholarship to Stanford.
“My injuries are something I’ll have to deal with the rest of my life,” Kay told Yahoo Sports in 2014. “If court-storming didn’t exist, or if none of the people at my high school had ever really seen it on TV, it probably never would have happened. People claim it’s a tradition but we shouldn’t have tradition if it’s unsafe. It doesn’t make sense.”
That the Big 12’s punishment for Texas Tech was harsher than the one for Harris is symbolic of the fact that opinions of court storming are gradually changing in college athletics.
What Harris did is undeniably wrong. There’s never an excuse for striking a fan, especially one that did not appear to intentionally instigate a confrontation.
But schools owe it to visiting players to allow them to exit the floor safely without hundreds of people running at them. Otherwise incidents like this are bound to happen when jubilant fans mix with frustrated opposing players seconds after a hotly contested game ends.
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