Vol-atile court case


Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, center, is followed by a security guard as wife Kim congratulates him after the Volunteers defeated Florida, 80-76.

The Associated Press
Published: Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
After being involved in an incident that spurned new Southeastern Conference crowd-control measures, Florida found itself at the wrong end of another court-storming celebration Saturday.
But what irked Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley this time was his perception that little was done by Tennessee athletic administrators to prevent the incident from happening. Foley said he was told before the game by a Tennessee official that if the Vols won there was nothing they could do to prevent fans from reaching the court.
"In my opinion, it could have been handled better," Foley said. "I think before the game starts if you have an idea if that's going to happen and there's nothing you can do about it, it makes you wonder how much planning went into it."
Foley also questioned the teeth of the current SEC policy, which calls for a $5,000 fine for a school's first offense. Subsequent fines for second and third offenses are $25,000 and $50,000.
"We've got to talk about it," Foley said. "It seems to be the league has made a commitment to it and everyone has to make the same commitment."
SEC commissioner Mike Slive reviewed the incident Monday and was expected to decide soon whether the $5,000 fine will be levied. South Carolina and Vanderbilt have been the only two schools fined so far under the new guidelines, which were instituted in December of 2004.
South Carolina fans stormed the court following the Gamecocks' upset of Kentucky in January of 2005. Vanderbilt was fined after fans stormed the court following its NIT win against Memphis last March.
Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton sent a letter to Slive detailing the security measures that were in place for the game. It included increased police presence in the aisles of the student section and at the exits to ensure a safe path for the players to leave the court.
"Our game management staff and university officials previously had discussed and had in place several security measures designed to ensure safety," Hamilton said in a press release.
Still, it wasn't enough to prevent students from pouring down from risers underneath the basket following the Vols' 80-76 upset of then-No. 2 Florida.
Foley, who called Slive after the game, is sensitive to crowd-control issues because of an incident at Georgia in February of 2004 in which Georgia fans stormed the court following a 76-62 win. Videotape of the celebration showed a fan taking a swing at former Florida guard Matt Walsh.
That prompted the SEC to discuss crowd control during its annual spring meetings and come up with the current policy the following December.
"It's not a bunch of losers here making excuses," Foley said. "It has nothing to do with the outcome. They beat us fair and square. It's just a matter of running your business the way it should be run and the way this league wants it run."
Florida coach Billy Donovan expressed concern that interaction between athletes and fans following an emotional game is a combustible mix. In the Tennessee game, Florida players were able to get off the court quickly because the tunnel to the locker room at Thompson-Boling Arena was positioned next to the visiting bench. Donovan was able to shake hands with Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl after the game, but was unable to congratulate Tennessee players.
In addition to fans storming the court, there were incidents where fans behind the Florida bench engaged in some verbal altercations. One fan challenged Florida strength and conditioning coach Matt Herring to a fight.
"You're asking the players, the coaches, the managers, things like that, you are asking them to control their emotions," Donovan said. "That's not fair on a consistent basis. But we talk a lot about that because that's the world we live in. Because you know what, if one of our guys hauled off and punched someone right now, that would be the story. Is there a lawsuit? is there a fine?
"There is a point where somebody is going to do something and there's going to be a major problem and I hope it never happens."
While the reaction from Florida coaches and administrators was one of concern, the reaction from players was mixed. After the game, Florida guard Lee Humphrey said he considered it a compliment that fans stormed to court because of the Gators' high ranking.
Said UF point guard Taurean Green, however: "It's always scary when fans rush the court at an opposing team's place, because you never know how fans are going to get. You've just always got to be aware. You just have to be ready for everything."
Sophomore center Joakim Noah said he felt safe after the game.
"I never felt safer," Noah said. "We were the No. 2 team, it was an upset for them, and the fans felt like they needed to get on the floor."
Senior center Adrian Moss said he wished Florida fans could storm the court after games. Unlike Tennessee, where the student section has clear access to the court, Florida positions its student section on risers with a metal barrier above press row, making it difficult for fans to reach the court.
"I had no problem with those guys rushing the floor," Moss said. "It's an emotional game. They wanted to win, they had the little pep rally.
"They came out and they got the job done, bottom line. We can't be mad if they rush the floor and they win. We can't be mad at what they say. We should have went and took care of business and not even given them a chance to do that."
Kevin Brockway can be reached at (352) 374-5054 or by e-mail at brockwk@gvillesun.com

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