It had finally happened. After seven previous tries at defeating a No. 1 team, the South Carolina Gamecocks had finally beaten the top team in the nation, defeating Kentucky 68-62.
Naturally, the fans and students rushed the court, elated that this milestone had happened. Nothing wrong with that, right?
Wrong, says Southeastern Conference head Mike Slive, as the decision cost the Athletic Department $25,000. According to an off-the-wall rule (possibly precipitated by panic after the Pistons-Pacers brawl of 2004), no fan can go onto the court at all, period. It doesn’t matter if your team just won a big game or not. Here’s Slive’s rationale toward the rule:
“This policy is designed to create a safe environment for everyone who participates and attends our athletic contests. The security and protection of our student athletes, coaches, officials and fans is our primary concern.”
Correct me if I’m wrong, but this didn’t seem like a safety or a security issue at all. Kentucky head coach John Calipari had left the court and all the Kentucky players were supposedly back in the locker room, so there was no chance of anybody running out there and slugging someone. The only people out there were the South Carolina student body, the team and the coaches…no one else. In fact, the players (particularly SEC scoring leader, Devan Downey) and athletic director encouraged the idea. According to Athletic Director Eric Hyman:
“[The arena was] as exciting as any time since I’ve been here.”
Of course it was. That had to have been the biggest basketball game in the history of the university. Every shot was met with wild cheers by Gamecock fans and vicious jeers by the Wildcat fans. There was so much pent-up energy in the field house during an exciting game that the upset brought one of the biggest celebrations in sports: rushing the court.
As a matter of fact, the security detail was well taken care of: when the game seemed to be well in hand, field house security held up a yellow rope too keep people off the court (not that that would stop anything, but give them an "A" for effort). It’s not like the guards just left the court after the game. They stayed and tried to keep the SEC’s draconian law.
I can see the SEC’s rationale behind it (to ensure that peole are safe and no fights break out). In fact, the reason they instituted this rule was because of the Gamecocks, after Clemson and South Carolina football players got into a fight during a game a few years ago. However, Slive, playing the role of buzzkill, destroyed the whole atmosphere of a very exciting game. This was history in the making and he went and ruined it by not allowing the fans to celebrate with the players after the players invited them onto the court.
On the other hand, the students understood the rule and took up a collection to help pay the fine. I applaud the effort given by the students, because they knew what they did was wrong (if only in the SEC’s eyes). However, it shouldn’t have been needed. You can’t fine someone for getting excited as much as you can tax someone for buying soda (yes, I’m looking at you, New York).
One message to Mike Slive: playing the role of Buzz Killington (of Family Guy fame) might get you points with the suits that run the NCAA, but it’s not going to make you very popular with the fans. If you lose fan support, you’re going to get fired anyway, no matter how many rules you implement to keep people safe.
If that happens, just like in the game on that fateful Tuesday night, the fans might be telling you , “I told you so.”