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March the madness begins

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As a former referee as well as a college coach and collegiate player, I love this time of year. The NCAA Basketball Tournament is affectionately called:”March Madness”. However, this year as the regular collegiate Basketball season has shown, the appellation “Madness” many have more meaning… I hope not.

If you are old enough, you might recall a popular hit song in the ‘50s, sung by the Four Lads, called “Moments to Remember”. It had a great lyric line, “The day we tore the goal posts down”.

You know, I never stormed a field, or any playing area to tear the goal posts after we won, or for that matter I never played on team that was victorious enough that we could cut the basket strings down at the end of the game.

This year, there have been many collegiate fans who have taken cheering for their team a little too far. There have been incidents when individuals have stormed the court to punch a referee, a coach, or a player. Sometimes, this year even home team players have been victims of fan assault because the fan was unhappy how the player was performing.

All the foregoing being said, storming the court is a frightening thing. In 1949, I was refereeing an AAU game in Upstate New York. It was a tough game and both teams were extremely physical. Toward the end of the game, I called an unpopular foul on a player from the home team.

Inadvertently, I precipitated a riot. The fans stormed the court and myself along with the other two officials left the court on the run. We found an escape route, got to our car and never
Looked back… leaving our clothes and sundry items in the locker room. It was one the most frightening moments in my life.

Most fans are orderly, but there are those few rotten apples that spoil it for the others.

Now don’t get me wrong! Violence in sports and fan overreaction is nothing new. It happened even in ancient times. That doe not make it right.

When we talk about violence in sports, we are referring to the threat of intentional physical harm that is aimed toward injuring a player, coaches and officials by those engaged in the spectating of an event.

This year, however, there have been too many incidents to ignore. In days gone by, college fans only stormed the court when their team won a championship or pulled off a major upset. Today’s college fans storm the court even after run-of-the-mill victories and even if their team has lost.

The latter often look for someone on the opposing team to take out his or her frustration. But this has been going on since the Dark Ages. Sometimes fans were so distraught that would stone people to death and even worse.

There are legitimate concerns about student safety. I ask the question: when a court is stormed, who protects the players … the opponents? The students must be protected from themselves.

Many of America’s foremost coaches, Mike Krzyzewski, among others, have been extremely vocal about his agitation. As a result, the SEC has imposed court-storming fines.

Last week, during the University of California/Santa Barbara game and a Hawaii game, incidents occurred. Here, in both cases, a wild-eyed student went after a coach.

Earlier this year, Utah Valley State fans stormed the court after a win over New Mexico… this ended up in a brawl. Such incidents have been replicated in many places throughout the season.

I realize that in this day and age, there are quite a few more pressing security issues involving an Arena Event than protecting the court. However, along those lines, the NCAA should take heed and protect wherever possible.

Unfortunately, those who control college sports have done a most distressing job by taking the college out of sports. Today, Collegiate Sports feel like cold-hearted, slick business ventures.

Actually, it doesn’t just feel that way it is that way! Is there something that can be done?

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