Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Court (non)sense

First things first this morning, as the image of Bill Self being crushed against the scorer's table remains fresh:

Kansas was ranked eighth. Eighth.

The Jayhawks weren't No. 1. They weren't even in the top five. They weren't undefeated, and they didn't come in trailing an 81-game winning streak the way the John Wooden UCLA Bruins once did, and they weren't, like those Bruins, the seven-time defending national champions. They were just a pretty good team in a season where there's a lot of pretty good teams, and one great one in Lexington, Ky.

And still.

Still the students rushed the court down there in Manhattan, Kan., after Kansas State took 'em down. Still the mob became its own potentially lethal weapon. Still it was just another episode of made-for-TV mayhem that suggested K-State students must not get out much, and also that the rushing-the-court thing long ago jumped the shark.

Except that in this case, it became the shark.

A mob is a mob is a mob, and its mindlessness carries just as sharp an edge whether it springs from delirious joy or red-mad fury. And so there was Kansas coach Bill Self, crushed against the scorer's table. There was Kansas State coach Bruce Weber desperately trying to get the mob to back off. And there were a couple of Kansas players being assaulted -- there's no other word -- as they tried to leave the floor.

Question: What happens if one of those players starts throwing punches in retaliation, and a student goes down, and that student gets trampled as a result?

Question: What happens if Weber's unsuccessful, and Self goes down and gets trampled?

Question: Does this really have to end in tragedy, and criminal charges, and ruined lives, before it finally just ends?

Look. I know how this sounds, coming from me. It sounds like your mom telling you to zip up your coat and put your hat and gloves on, it's cold outside. It sounds like Get Off My Lawn Man ranting about These Kids Today, forgetting that he was once one of them. It sounds like the kind of thing they play laugh tracks over in sitcoms.

Get Off My Lawn Man doesn't care. Because one of these days this is all going to end very badly.

I'm thinking now of an ESPN 30-For-30 I watched not too long ago about the Hillsborough Stadium soccer tragedy in Sheffield, England. During an FA Cup semifinal between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in 1989, 96 people were crushed to death and 766 were injured after the standing-room only section grew dangerously overcrowded. Police finally collapsed the gates and the panicked crowd stampeded onto the field to get away.

It's not precisely analogous to fans rushing the floor at a basketball game, but the elements are the same. As is the potential for disaster. Just ask Joe Kay, who a decade ago scored the winning bucket in a high school game in Tucson, Ariz., and then was trampled when his schoolmates rushed the floor in celebration.

Kay's in a wheelchair now. Bill Self, and others, could have wound up meeting the same fate, if not for the grace of God and pure dumb luck.

So what do you?

Well, the SEC has already banned rushing the court, and fines those who do a hefty sum. Maybe every conference needs to follow suit, with the additional addendum that those who do face criminal charges.

Let 'em storm their jail cells. Get Off My Lawn Man speaks.  



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