Sean Miller has solution for court-storming dangers

Sean Miller has solution for court-storming dangers

It happened at Arizona State this month. It happened at Oregon State in January. And at UNLV in December.

It happened three times last season to the Arizona Wildcats, when they lost on the road. Fans, so excited that their team knocked off the highly ranked Cats, stormed the court after the upset win -- at Oregon, at ASU, at Cal.

That makes it six times in a row that fans have stormed the court after an Arizona road loss, and coach Sean Miller hopes to never see it again ... and not just because he hopes to win every game.

He would like to see an end to all the emotionally charged postgame mosh pits, which, as he says, have "all the makings of a disaster." It's a case of when, not if, something horrible happens on a college basketball court if court stormings are allowed to continue.

"I would probably be in a long line of coaches saying that if you imposed a fine on that institution, I would be willing to bet you that there would be no court storming, or that it would be much different," Miller said Tuesday at his weekly press conference.

And what does he have in mind for a fine?

"A hundred thousand. Yeah, a hundred thousand," he said. "If you penalize a program $100,000 for a court storming, I bet you last night Bill Self wouldn't have gotten jammed into the scorer's table like he did."

Court storming is the discussion of the day in college basketball because of what happened at the end of Kansas State's victory over rival Kansas on Monday night. The on-court throng smashed Self into the table, and one Kansas player took enough of a hit from a fan that campus police tweeted a picture of the suspect in question, seeking help in identifying him.

"To me, it's unnecessary in many ways," Miller of court storming. "If you think about it, there's only one thing that can happen, and that's bad. ... I can name a lot of bad. If a punch was thrown, the people who would pay the dearest penalty would be the players and the coaches, not the fans."

Seventh-ranked Arizona (24-3 overall, 12-2 Pac-12) faces more potential court storming this week with a road trip to Colorado on Thursday and a showdown vs. second-place Utah (21-5, 11-3) on Saturday night. But this isn't just an Arizona issue; the Kansas-Kansas State incident could be a tipping point for change at the conference level.

"I think part of this court storming that gets lost in the shuffle is that many times you talk about how you have to be a good sport and everyone focuses on it if you lose, but yet if you win, you can just act like a complete ass," Miller said.

"If you were Bill Self and you get blasted into the scorer's table, I mean, eventually you say to yourself, 'C'mon. You're holding me to a standard. Is there anyone else in the building who is being held to any type of standard?' I can see his cause for concern for sure."

The SEC bans court storming, levying fines if it happens. The punishment starts at only $5,000, however, for the first incident, increasing to $25,000 and then $50,000.

Miller mentioned the topic of court storming -- and his proposed solution -- in a discussion with Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne following his afternoon press conference.

"One of the things I love about Sean is he's always creative about his thought process," Byrne told SportsRadio 1290 about the idea of a $100,000 fine.

"That would certainly take care of the problem, I believe. I don't know if it will ever get to that point or not, but I appreciate what Sean is saying there."

Coaches and players see this as a safety issue. Part of fans' complaints about court storming is that it occurs all too often in celebration of a result that doesn't truly merit such a raucous reaction. Act like you've been there and all that.

It's hard to be half-way with this. If you're on the side of safety, then any court storming -- even when a nobody beats a No. 1-ranked team -- doesn't seem worth the risk of creating a truly ugly incident between fans and the visiting team.

Byrne said he hopes there is still room to thread the needle here.

"As far as court storming, I'm not against it actually happening, but what I want to make sure is that our team and coaches get off the floor safely before the court storming happens," he said. "I don't know how that works at each institution.

"The idea of students coming and storming the court and having a fun time, that's part of the college environment at times, but you have to make sure the visiting team can get off the court safely.

"Look at the what happened in football this year. We had our students on the field a couple of times after games, but we also had the visiting locker room right by the bench and a lot of security on the field to make sure they could exit to their area safely. With a delayed reaction, I'm not against it, but most importantly we have to make sure everyone is off of there."

It's been a while since students stormed the court at McKale. The last such time appears to have been Jan. 19, 2002, when the Wildcats overcame a 20-point second-half deficit to beat ninth-ranked UCLA 96-86.

"I don't know if anyone is sending their son or daughter to the University of Arizona to attend a basketball game, recklessly storm the court, charge a player or coach at full speed, hit them with some vulgarity and potentially physically run into them," Miller said. "C'mon. I don't look at that as needed to be in place in the future of college basketball."

Miller said that amid the on-court scrum, "Some of the things that are said, it's offensive. Your natural reaction is to want to punch them. You can't, but it happens fast, there's a ton of emotion."

Sophomore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has lived through six court stormings, saying he has managed to get out of the way of "the crowd nonsense." He added: "One thing I know players hate is when students try to put their phones in your face and all that. That's kind of disrespectful. I could see where someone would get upset and smack a phone out of someone's hands."

Tucsonans can appreciate the discussion. In 2004, Tucson High's Joe Kay -- the school valedictorian and headed to a full ride at Stanford on a volleyball scholarship -- capped a big basketball win with a dunk. Fans stormed the court, knocking him down. Kay suffered a torn carotid artery, and a stroke left him paralyzed on the right side.

"Even if a major player on a major team got injured, it's become such a part of the culture that it's hard to change," Kay told ESPN in March 2013 about court storming incidents.

"Every time I watch it, it seems ridiculous. I expect them to know about me, but they don't -- I have the feeling that if they did, they wouldn't be so nonchalant about rushing the court."

Anthony Gimino has covered University of Arizona athletics for more than two decades, including as the football beat writer for the Arizona Daily Star and the columnist for the Tucson Citizen.