Melee after Kansas State's upset puts spotlight on safety

Orlin Wagner/AP PhotoKansas State players including Wesley Iwundu

Orlin Wagner/AP PhotoKansas State players including Wesley Iwundu

MANHATTAN — More than a dozen security officials dressed in bright green shirts gathered behind the basket, just as they were trained. When the final seconds ticked away on Kansas State's stunning upset of rival Kansas, they immediately sprinted onto the floor.

Thousands of students and fans still beat them there.

The surge of humanity crushed Jayhawks coach Bill Self against a press table. His junior forward, Jamari Traylor, was body-checked by another fan. Assistant coach Kurtis Townsend had to peel away still more fans shouting profanities and making obscene gestures at his players.

“This has to stop,” said Self, whose eighth-ranked Jayhawks have watched similar scenes unfold countless times over the years, including earlier this month in a loss at Oklahoma State.

“You need to get security to the point where player safety isn't a question.”

What should have been an uplifting victory Monday night for a Kansas State program that has struggled all season instead has become the catalyst for deep-seated dialogue on fan decorum.

How far should they take their celebrations? How much interaction should they have with players and coaches? How much responsibility falls on the shoulders of conferences and schools?

“Celebrations are going to happen. We know that,” said Dr. Lou Marciani, who directs the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security at Southern Mississippi. “But we have to do a better job of encouraging the conferences and institutions to address this issue in a more serious manner because something is going to happen.”

In fact, several scary incidents have already happened.

Joe Kay, a Stanford recruit, was paralyzed in 2004 when he was injured in a maelstrom following his final high school game. North Carolina State's C.J. Leslie once had to rescue a disabled student who had fallen from his wheelchair during a melee after beating Duke.

A year ago, a brawl erupted when New Mexico State players started throwing punches at Utah Valley fans who had rushed the court after the final buzzer.

Longtime coach Fran Fraschilla, who called the Kansas State game as a color analyst for ESPN, remembers winning a conference championship at Manhattan College years ago. His school's fans rushed the floor and nearly trampled his wife and infant son.

“Court storming is a part of college basketball, for better or worse,” Fraschilla told The Associated Press. “But there are certainly ways you can ensure as much as you possibly can the security of the players and coaches and court personnel so nobody gets hurts.”

The problem is there are no consistent guidelines. NCAA spokesman David Worlock said it is the responsibility of conference and schools to provide sufficient security, which means there are different protocols at just about every arena in the country.

There are 351 schools playing Division I men's basketball this season. Some conferences, including the SEC, have banned court-storming altogether, levying up to $50,000 in fines against schools that are repeat violators. But that has hardly stopped the flow of students onto the floor when national powerhouses such as Kentucky are toppled.

The Big 12 said in a statement Tuesday it was reviewing the postgame celebration at Kansas State, but underscored “home team game management is responsible for the implementation of protocols to provide for the safety of all game participants, officials and fans.”

Security can do only so much, though. At some point, holding back a wave of fans can become just as dangerous as letting them onto the floor. That is why for years, the late North Carolina coach Dean Smith had players go straight to the locker room when a court-storming was inevitable, rather than try to wade to midcourt for the traditional postgame handshake.

In rare cases, commonsense has prevailed.

Earlier this season, Notre Dame students began to stream onto the court following a victory over Duke. Fighting Irish star Jerian Grant realized what was happening and motioned for the students to return to their seats — and they did. No security was necessary.

“We've had some pretty good teams through the year and they've rushed the court and I've been bopped and hit and stuff, and it's no fun, especially when you lose,” Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said. “Sometimes it's hard. They ran just run right through.”

Kansas State athletic director John Currie acknowledged in an interview with the AP that the school failed to provide sufficient security when Monday night's game ended.

Currie said administrators spent Tuesday reviewing what went wrong, and the school was working with local law enforcement to locate fans caught on video hitting opposing players.

“You can always get into tactical analysis of any particular operation. I don't think that's constructive right now. We could have had the national guard in there and it might not have mattered,” Currie said. “The reality of it is we didn't do as good of a job after the game as we should have done. We're accountable for that. We own that.”

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