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Someone is eventually going to die.
Storming a field or court, as Minnesota fans did after the Gophers beat Purdue on Tuesday night, might seem like a harmless tradition. A fun way to celebrate historic upsets by transforming the field of play into a raucous scene of jubilation.
But it’s not.
Aside from the sheer pointlessness of it – you get on the court and then what? Stand there for a few minutes looking for someone to hug or high five? Yeah, that’s a real moment to share with the grandkids – the risk of serious injury, even death, is real.
Twenty-five years ago, more than five dozen people were injured when Wisconsin fans tried to run onto the field after the Badgers beat Michigan for the first time in more than a decade. No one died, but 10 people were unconscious and not breathing when they were rescued.
Fifteen years ago, an Arizona high school student suffered a torn carotid artery and had a stroke after being thrown to the ground during the melee that followed his game-winning dunk. Joe Kay was initially paralyzed on his right side and while he learned how to walk and talk again, he’s never regained the use of his right hand.
Four years ago, Kansas coach Bill Self was pinned against the scorer’s table as Kansas State fans flooded onto the court.
The crush of humanity isn’t the only danger. Videos of Tuesday night’s pandemonium showed Purdue center Matt Haarms brushing aside a Minnesota fan who ran into him and flipped him off while Haarms was trying to leave the court. Imagine if the 7-foot-3, 250-pound Haarms hadn’t been so composed, and had taken a swing at the much smaller fan.
Or a football player with a helmet in his hands loses his cool.
“My injuries are something I’ll have to deal with the rest of my life,” Kay told Yahoo! Sports in a 2014 interview. “People claim (court storming) is a tradition but we shouldn’t have tradition if it’s unsafe. It doesn’t make sense.”
No, it doesn’t. And it needs to stop before someone else gets hurt. Or worse.
Several coaches have pleaded for the sophomoric behavior to stop, warning of the potential dangers, and some of the conferences have tried to rein fans in. The Southeastern Conference fines schools $50,000 for a first offense, $100,000 for a second and $250,000 for a third.
“We want to have exciting experiences around SEC games, but also want to maintain a safe environment for student-athletes, coaches, spectators and officials,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said, explaining why Auburn was slapped with a $100,000 fine in 2016 after its students rushed the court following a win over Kentucky.
But other conferences aren’t as proactive. And some schools just don’t care.
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This was at least the second time this has happened at Minnesota, following a rush in 2013 after the Gophers upset then-No. 1 Indiana. When South Carolina fans stormed the court after beating Kentucky five years ago, school president Harris Pastides was right there with them.
“Once I realized I was paying (the fine) anyway, I ran down,” Pastides told The Daily Gamecock. “I enjoyed every dollar.”
It doesn’t help that all of this is celebrated by some media outlets and, in some cases, even the conferences themselves. A shot of the fans rushing the court is included in the Purdue-Minnesota highlight video on the Big Ten’s YouTube channel. One of the videos of the 2013 pandemonium was posted by the Big Ten’s own network.
Which is why the NCAA needs to step in.
The NCAA prohibits court storming at its championships and, with very few exceptions, has been successful in preventing it. That’s partly because the number of students at these games is smaller, but it’s also because the NCAA works with the various venues to ensure there’s a strict security plan in place.
The NCAA doesn’t have the manpower to review security or create crowd-control plans at every stadium and arena in the country. But it can penalize schools that willfully disregard safety. I’m sure being banned from the NCAA tournament would get a school’s attention. Or losing a scholarship.
Harsh penalties? Sure. But something has to be done.
Before it’s too late.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.