North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams and Florida State University Seminoles head coach Leonard Hamilton mutually agreed to pull the UNC bench from the playing area in the waning moments of FSU's blowout victory on Saturday.
Although NCAA basketball rules require bench personnel remain seated and head coaches to remain in their designated coaching box while the ball is live with limited exceptions, for officials Jamie Luckie, Mike Eades and Sean Corbin, the move was a no-brainer.
Ranked No. 3 nationally, UNC was losing by the lopsided sum of 90-57 with just 14.2 seconds remaining in regulation. A huge win for FSU, Seminoles fans were gathering around the court, eager for the second half to expire so they could rush the court, a college tradition of sorts.
That's when both coaches and Luckie met at the scorer's table to discuss player safety—with UNC far out of striking distance, Williams had waved the white flag and was contemplating how to most securely get his team from their bench to the locker room. After all, the primary goal of the rules is to maximize the safety and enjoyment of the student-athlete.
The last thing UNC and FSU needed was a repeat of Florida-Vanderbilt from several years ago, when the Vanderbilt Commodores defeated the then-No. 1 Florida Gators. When Commodores fans rushed the court in that contest, at least one punch was thrown by Florida's Brandon Powell at a Vanderbilt fan.
In 2003, Nebraska Cornhusker football player Kellen Huston punched a Missouri fan during Mizzou's post-victory celebration.
Perhaps more worrisome, a fan invaded the pitch during a 2009 soccer contest between Bolivia and Uruguay—armed with a knife. The fan made contact with a player but was fortunately unable to injure his victim. The game was then called in the interest of player, coach and official safety, although fans launched firework and flare projectiles from the stands, injuring at least one coach.
With such potential for a dangerous incident occurring after the final whistle and horn, the officials and coaches were wise to request and agree upon UNC's preliminary departure.
Out of respect for the game, five UNC players remained to play out the final 14.2 seconds of the contest before making a bee-line straight for the visitor's locker room. After all, rushing the court would be fairly anticlimactic if the entire UNC squad had walked off the court prematurely.
Instead, as FSU dribbled out the final seconds, fans poured onto the court from all directions in jubilation of their team's huge upset win—FSU players were able to celebrate with their supporters while most of the UNC team was safely backstage by game's end.
Gil Imber is Bleacher Report's Rules Featured Columnist and owner of Close Call Sports, a website dedicated to the objective and fair analysis of close or controversial calls in sports.
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