By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – What should or could be done about court storming?
It seems that question comes up every basketball season, and now it’s even more magnified in the wake of what happened to Caitlin Clark on Sunday at Ohio State.
Iowa’s All-America senior guard was running off the court following a 100-92 overtime loss to the Buckeyes when she and a fan collided near one of the baskets.
Clark and the fan were both knocked to the ground, and Clark crumbled over in pain.
She then said in the post-game press conference that she had the wind knocked out of her, but other than that she was okay.
So, a disaster was avoided.
But will anything come from this close call?
Will Clark’s immense popularity be enough to cause action to be taken?
And should action be taken?
Those are just some of the questions being asked in the aftermath of this incident.
Purdue men’s basketball coach Matt Painter recently brought attention to the dangers of court storming following a loss at Nebraska in which the Nebraska students rushed the court afterwards.
Painter warned that something bad could happen if steps weren’t taken to prevent court storming, and then shortly thereafter it nearly did happen to Clark.
It’s easy to say that steps should be taken to eliminate court storming, but to actually do it in this age of court storming is anything but easy because traditions are hard to erase.
Iowa men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery brought up a great point in his Monday press conference when asked in light of what happened to Clark if he had any thoughts about court storming.
“I really haven’t,” he said. “It’s funny, we were talking last week, well, are going to move the students down closer to the court?
“What do you think they’re going to do? It’s a big win. They’re either going to sit there or they’re going to run on the floor.”
Fran McCaffery brought up the fact that his sons, which includes Iowa senior forward Patrick McCaffery, stormed the field after the Iowa football team defeated Michigan several years ago.
“I remember the first time my boys when they were younger before they ever played for me, they ran out on the field,” he said. “We beat Michigan, I think it was. It’s always everybody loves it and everything is just wonderful until something like that happens and then we’ve got to change.”
Fran McCaffery, whose team plays host to Maryland on Wednesday, also mentioned that there used to be a tradition in which fans tore down football goal posts after big wins.
In fact, Iowa fans tore down one of the goal posts in the Metrodome in Minneapolis after the Iowa football team had clinched a share of the Big Ten title in 2002.
“Think back, we used to tear the goals post down, right,” Fran McCaffery said, “Until somebody got hit in the head. Then it wasn’t such a good idea.”
Court storming has been a long-standing tradition for decades and is now deeply embedded in the game-day experience.
The risks are obvious, but the reward is worth it for those caught up in the heat of the moment.
“I don’t think they’re going away, but there’s really two solutions,” Fran McCaffery said. “You either let them have it or you don’t.
“Bring the cops in, but I don’t think that’s realistic. You want these kids to come to the game and be enthusiastic and run on the floor and have fun and support your team.
“It’s unfortunate what happened to Caitlin. Fortunately, she’s okay. She’s as tough as they come. We know that.”
Maybe there aren’t just two solutions.
This doesn’t necessarily have to be a situation in which court storming is either allowed or it isn’t.
There needs to be some middle ground, a compromise in which both sides give a little.
Imagine how much security it would take to prevent thousands of students from rushing the court after a big win.
And what if some student refused to obey the rule?
That could lead to some ugly incidents.
It would be nice if there was a way to let the losing team exit the court just seconds before the final horn sounds.
But the problem with that is so many of the games in which court storming occurs go down to the wire.
There is no simple solution to this problem, because like Fran McCaffery said, you want the students to be energized and close to the action, and court storming just goes with the territory.