Mike Krzyzewski does not like to lose.
Coach K's Duke Blue Devils fell for just the fourth time this season on Thursday night, a 73-68 defeat to Atlantic Coast Conference foe Virginia, and the Hall of Fame coach deflected some of the attention away from the loss by complaining about the utter lack of safety provided for his team as the Cavalier faithful "wahooed" their way onto the court.
Another Duke loss, another group of fans rush onto the court in a never-ending effort to be part of the story.
Before you jump down into the comments to tell me how boring and old I am (both true, I'm sure), I don't want to make this into just another rant about college basketball's growing epidemic of storming the floor after a win. Coach K brought up some legitimate concerns about the practice in his postgame press conference (via Raleigh News and Observer reporter Laura Keeley) that shouldn't be dismissed:
Whatever you’re doing, you need to get the team off first. Look, celebrate, have fun, obviously you won, that’s cool. Just get our team off the court and our coaching staff before students come on.
Look do you know how close you are to, just put yourself in the position of one of our players or coaches. I’m not saying any fan did this, but the potential is there all the time for a fan to just go up to you and say, "Coach you’re a,” or push you or hit you. And what do you do? What if you did something? That would be the story. We deserve that type of protection.
Coach K is absolutely right.
If a rabid fan rushing onto the court tried to attack his players, what would happen? Arena security is not equipped to handle the onslaught of thousands of fans cascading out of the stands and onto a basketball court, especially when some of them could have more nefarious deeds than celebrating with their fellow students in mind.
The Virginia event staff did the best they could to protect the Duke players, but the fact remains most arenas are ill equipped to handle that kind of situation. It's a powder keg, ready to explode. (And yes, I know I sound like an old fuddy-duddy.)
I worked in a college basketball arena for 10 years and saw my fair share of upset wins over ranked teams. Invariably, fans would storm the court, jumping up and down with the players while the TV cameras rolled along before looking around, noticing the rest of the arena had emptied and the team had gone to the locker room before filing out of the arena to hit the nearest bar.
It's a show. It's almost always been a show. Today, college kids are storming the floor more and more because they think that's what they're supposed to do to be part of the show.
Oh, you beat the No. 3 team in the country? Get to the court to celebrate before ESPN signs off. We might make SportsCenter.
No. No! Your team is good. Your team will make the NCAA tournament. Your team was favored by Vegas oddsmakers to win the freaking game outright. There is no reason to storm the floor after you win a game Vegas expected you to win. There is no reason for the fans of every team to beat Duke to run onto the court because they are always better than your team. Trust me, I am the furthest thing from a Duke apologist, but it's enough already.
Maryland upset Duke 83-81 in February in a fantastically hard-fought contest after which I half-jokingly tweeted "now that is storm worthy." It was, in the general context of that singular moment for Maryland, a court-storming victory. The Terps looked like a sudden lock for the NCAA tournament, before going out and losing two of the next three games to find themselves essentially back where they were on the bubble before they even beat Duke.
Still, great win, and probably worthy of a good old-fashioned court storming.
When Oklahoma State's fans rushed the court earlier that day after defeating state-rival Oklahoma 84-79 in overtime, that felt a tad more contrived.
Oklahoma State was ranked; Oklahoma was not. Oklahoma State was at home, and despite the game going to overtime, there was no last-second, game-deciding moment that thrust the fans out of their seats and onto the court.
Rushing the court is never fun when it's planned.
For years, people have tried to establish rules for when fans should or shouldn't storm the court—hell, maybe that's almost what this is, in a way—but the fact remains that the best, nay, only time fans should storm the court is when their natural emotions overwhelm them to do so.
When the result of a game—a shocking upset over a top-ranked team or a last-second shot when the season looked lost—is so overpoweringly emotional that you cannot contain your excitement in the stands and you need to share the celebration with the players and coaches and everyone else in the arena, that's when you storm the court.
When you beat Duke for your 20th win of the year or you beat a cross-state rival you were supposed to beat, celebrate like mad, but do it in your seats, on the concourse and in the local bars. And while you're at it, have some perspective of where the program has been.
Sure, you beat Duke, but it's a conference game. You should win your conference games at home.
For Maryland, again, as great as the win was, you're Maryland. You used to beat Duke all the damn time and were part of perhaps the best rivalry of the early 2000s. The current Maryland students should be old enough to remember when they won the national title. Storming the floor after beating Duke should only serve to remind Duke fans of how far your program has tumbled.
It's not just Coach K. The Southeastern Conference hates court bombardiers too, having banned the practice nearly a decade ago and fining schools that are repeat offenders of the rule.
Honestly, I can't understand the people who defend the idea of running onto the court. There are so many reasons it should not be OK—from the safety of the players, to the safety of the opponents, to the safety of the fans, to seeing what boots and high-heeled shoes can do to a basketball court (it's not pretty) just to name a few—and there is but one reason this should be OK: It's fun.
Let the college kids have fun.
They can have fun! They can have fun in the stands and on the concourse and in the nearby bars. They can have fun in their dorm rooms and fraternity and sorority houses and anywhere they want, other than the actual basketball court.
Why does it happen? If rushing the court is so dangerous and coaches like Mike Krzyzewski reportedly curse out fans who get in his face, why is it allowed to happen?
Simple: It looks cool on TV.
Teams let their fans run onto the court because recruits might see it on TV and that image will make them dream about thousands of adoring fans hoisting them to the rafters after hitting a game-winning shot. See, Coach K doesn't care about that because Duke's fans never have reason to rush the court at Cameron Indoor Stadium. For Coach K, his recruiting videos include cutting down the nets, not fans on the court.
For those teams that never get to cut down the nets, oftentimes that one chance for fans to rush the court is the best highlight of the season. Without that celebratory moment to cap the season's signature win, there wouldn't be much to highlight.
That's the only reason it still happens, and it's a pretty horrible reason at that.
Take the recruiting aspect out of this and try to think about the situation in another context. Would an NBA team be OK with fans on the court after a big win? It would be chaos. Would MLB teams want fans running onto the field after a big three-game sweep of a division rival?
Would an upstart tennis player want fans running onto the court to celebrate a win over Roger Federer, or a young golfer want fans jumping over the ropes to carry him off after beating Tiger Woods in a match-play event?
Chaos. There would be chaos if fans tried to do that in any professional sport. Yet in college basketball, the practice has become a weekly occurrence. Hell, this year, with so much tumult at the top of the rankings and Top Five teams losing as often as they have, someone is rushing a court somewhere in America almost every night.
Just because it happens all the time, doesn’t make it cool. In fact, the more it happens, the less cool it's become.
Fans have to realize that running onto the court after a game is not a college basketball right, nor should it be a privilege. Coach K is correct to complain, even if it makes him a sore loser.