The visual of one of the nation's most popular athletes knocked to the floor after a fan who was staring at her phone collided with her while storming the court was a stark reminder of the dangers athletes face when crowds get out of control.
Iowa superstar Caitlin Clark was shaken up but not injured in the collision, which occurred Sunday as she headed toward the locker room with teammates following a 100-92 loss to then-No. 18 Ohio State in Columbus.
It was the second time in less than two weeks that fans have stormed the court at the end of a Big Ten game. It happened Jan. 9 in Lincoln when the Nebraska men knocked off then-No. 1 Purdue. Boilermakers coach Matt Painter said afterward game management personnel need to be better prepared to protect athletes caught up in the commotion.
Of the six major basketball conferences, four fine host schools for a first offense of failure to keep fans off the court. The ACC does not levy fines and the Big Ten waits until a third offense.
“We try not to be too heavy-handed on the policy of court-storming for a problem that doesn’t necessarily exist. ... Don’t want to unfairly financially hurt already cash-strapped athletic departments,” Big Ten vice president of strategic communications Scott Markley said Monday in an interview with The Associated Press.
“But we do have a policy," he said. "But generally it’s rely on school policy, local law enforcement, (to) know what’s best for their fans and student-athletes and officials. And we’re always monitoring these things and discuss if we need to make adjustments in the interest of a safe environment.”
Jan Jensen, Iowa's associate head coach, told the AP on Monday that Clark reported no after-effects from the collision. Clark is the reigning national player of the year and is on the cusp of becoming the all-time leading scorer in Division I women's basketball.
“When you have an athlete that hits the turf — but then you have arguably the highest-profile college athlete — this might spark the debate about what do we need to do with this,” Jensen said.
Markley said the Big Ten's game management manual addresses security. Reading from the manual, he said "host institutions must provide adequate security and protection for the visiting teams and officials and their vehicles immediately upon arrival on campus continuing through their departure.”
Markley said institutions “will be held responsible for school-sponsored student and band sections that attack or single out student-athletes. An institution not in compliance with this policy shall be subject to conference review and action.”
Markley said the first offense prompts a private notification to the institution. The second offense brings a public acknowledgement of an institutional problem. A fine could be levied for a third offense, Markley said.
Other than to say student-athlete safety is of “utmost importance,” the Big Ten did not comment directly on the fan's collision with Clark.
The Big 12 fined UCF $25,000 for a court-storming following an upset of Kansas in a men’s game Jan. 10.
The Southeastern Conference has a multitiered fine for field or court-storming: $100,000 for the first offense, $250,000 for the second and $500,000 for subsequent offenses. The policy began with the 2023-24 season, with all schools starting with a clean slate.
The Pac-12 issues fines of $25,000 for a first offense, $50,000 for the second and $100,000 for the third. The Big East fines schools $5,000.
The South Carolina women have a yellow rope ringing the court after every home game, win or lose. Fans wait against it while players come up and take selfies with those attending.
When Northwestern upset Purdue on Dec. 1, almost all of Purdue's players and staff were on their way to the locker room when the Wildcats shot free throws with less than one second left. Fans ran onto the court at the buzzer.
Purdue players and staff were still on the court when time expired at Nebraska, where even head football coach Matt Rhule was among the throng that went onto the court.
“So we’ve got to do something about the court storms, guys,” Painter said after the game. "I don’t know why institutions aren’t ready for it. What did you think was going to happen? Spread the word, spread the word before somebody gets hurt.
“A student from Nebraska should be able to storm the court, right? Like, we’re cool, just get ready for it, if that’s what you’re going to do. So we’re struggling in our conference with that.”
Painter said schools need to take steps to keep order, whether it's roping off the court or creating a greater police presence.
“Nothing happened,” he said that night, "but something’s going to happen.”
AP Sports Writer Pat Graham in Colorado contributed.
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