Dangerous Precedent Set: SEC Fines South Carolina Over Fan Celebration

Chris GolightlyCorrespondent IJanuary 27, 2010

TAMPA, FL - MARCH 13:  Head coach Darrin Horn of the South Carolina Gamecocks argues a call with a referee during the game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs during the quaterfinal round of the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament on March 13, 2009 at The St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

According to the Associated Press, South Carolina will be fined for violating league rules against permitting fans on the playing area following a 68-62 victory over top-ranked Kentucky on Tuesday night.


The amount of the fine: $25,000.


SEC commissioner Mike Slive stated the policy is to keep a safe environment for those who participate and attend league events.


The policy must be changed.


Someone could get killed.


It’s not about having fun or being a party pooper. It’s not about sportsmanship or the lack thereof.


It is and always has been about safety. In the interest of safety, the fans must be allowed to storm the court.


Mike Slive would be well served to familiarize himself with the events that occurred following UNLV’s 76-61 victory over BYU on March 15, 2008 in the Mountain West Conference Championship game.


In the 2007 Championship game, UNLV and BYU squared off. The Rebels won. With the win, UNLV clinched a berth in the NCAA tournament, and several hundred jubilant Rebel fans rushed the court to celebrate.


Many of the several thousand Cougar fans in attendance saw the act as stinging insult heaped upon freshly inflicted injury.


Eyebrows were raised. Fingers were pointed. Complaints were voiced.


One year later, action was taken.


At the 2008 MWC tournament, the conference, in an attempt to ensure the safety of the players, coaches, and fans, installed a five-foot tall black wall around the perimeter of the arena floor. The purpose of the “Great Wall of Vegas” was abundantly clear:


Keep the fans off the court.  


As the waning moments ticked off the clock, and a UNLV victory was imminent, the tension mounted to the point of thick palpability.


Rebel fans saw the black monster as a challenge. They weren’t about to back down. 


Cougar fans saw the opposition’s defiance as a call to arms. A handful of ushers and a man-made wall would be no match for a united throng of giddy fanatics. Help was needed.


The final horn sounded.


Much to the chagrin of MWC commissioner Craig Thompson, a few fans began to trickle onto the court. For a brief few moments, the ushers battled valiantly against the groundswell of enthusiasm, but were overmatched. Little by little, they hopped the wall, or navigated over to an opening, or found some way around or through the obstacle.


It was a delayed rush, but the fans would not be denied.


Unfortunately, several minutes elapsed between the final horn and the full-fledged, on-court, fan-jam.


Several long, dangerous, ugly minutes.


As the people slowly percolated the resistance, some Cougar fans felt compelled to lend a hand. Rebels’ fans, perturbed by the attempted vigilante justice, battled back.


Eyebrows were raised. Fingers were pointed. Complaints were voiced.


In some cases, things got physical. Punches were thrown. Blood was drawn. The situation escalated to the cusp of chaos.


Fortunately, the tide turned quickly; the danger diffused.  Only minor injuries were sustained. For a short time, a riot seemed inevitable. Somehow, a bullet was dodged.


Next time, the result could be different.


The MWC, and its commissioner, learned their lesson. The following year, there was no wall.  The fans were encouraged to allow the opposing players a few moments to clear the court and then invited to descend and celebrate. No one was harmed. There was no tension. The safety police would have beamed with pride.


Though the circumstance of that game and the Gamecocks upset of No. 1 Kentucky bear few similarities, the fundamental principle is the same.


Where safety is concerned, attempting to ban fans from the court is foolish, short-sighted, and irresponsible.


Fans have no right to storm the court, but once they decide to storm, storm they will. Preventive measures inevitably add gallons of fuel to an otherwise harmless, controlled fire.


A euphoric mass can quickly transform into an angry mob.


Mike Slive, let common sense prevail. Shake your head; shrug your shoulders; furrow your brow; wag your finger; throw your hands up in disgust.


You don’t have to like it, but please, for safety’s sake:


Let them storm.