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Caitlin Clark Collision Raises Questions About Arena Security

After scoring 45 points in No. 2 Iowa’s 100-92 upset loss to No. 18 Ohio State at Schottenstein Center in Columbus, Ohio, on Sunday, Hawkeyes point guard Caitlin Clark collided with a woman who had rushed onto the court. Neither Clark nor the fan appears to have been injured, but the incident highlights a recurring problem in college sports: fans storming the playing surface.

Clark was sprinting to exit the court when she and a woman, who was jogging while holding up her phone, crashed into each other. Both then hit the floor. Clark later said she was ok but was “basically blindsided” and said the fan “could have caused a pretty serious injury to me and knocked the wind out of me.”

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There are multiple camera angles of the incident, with some observers suggesting Clark bears some of the blame or exaggerated the impact. The fan, however, shouldn’t have been on the court, let alone apparently distracted by recording a video on her phone. A game ticket, which is a revocable license to go into an athletic facility and occupy a seat during a game, doesn’t authorize fan entry onto the playing surface. Such entry onto the court, in fact, is a form of trespass. Ohio State athletic Director Gene Smith and Buckeyes coach Kevin McGuff apologized to Clark.

In 2015, Kansas forward Jamari Traylor was “hip-checked” by a fan who had rushed the court and head coach Bill Self was nearly trampled near the scorer’s table following a Kansas-Kansas State game. That same year Des Moines Register columnist Randy Peterson suffered a fractured tibia and fibula after some Iowa State fans celebrated a win against Iowa by rushing the court.

While these types of incidents are uncommon, they can spark liability if injuries result. Fans and players assume numerous risks by virtue of attending a sporting event, but the risk of being injured by rushing fans is arguably outside the scope of that assumption. The reasonableness of the facility’s security measures to deter and stop the rushing are key parts of the legal analysis.

Occasionally litigation has surfaced after post-game injuries result from storming fans. In 2003, a former Ball State student sued the manufacturer of a football goal post after the post collapsed onto him and broke his back. The post snapped under the collective weight of fans, who stormed the field and climbed the post after Ball State defeated Toledo. Ball State was also a defendant and negotiated a settlement.

Conferences have adopted varying measures to incentivize teams and facilities to reduce the risk of storming fans. In 2003, the Big Ten adopted crowd control measures that mandate adequate security measures and effective communications strategies. About 13 years later the Big 12 Conference empowered the conference to impose fines and forfeiture of future home games as punishments. Last year the Southeastern Conference doubled fines for teams that allow fans to rush the playing surface, with third time offenses costing schools $500,000.

Clark, 22, has won numerous awards as the best player in women’s college basketball. She was the Associated Press Player of the Year in 2023, when she also won the John Wooden Award and the Naismith College Basketball Player of the Year Award, along with numerous distinctions. Clark is currently averaging 31.7 points per game, along with 7.0 rebounds and 7.7 assists. She is widely expected to be selected first overall in the 2024 WNBA draft.

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