A wild postgame brawl following a contentious game between Utah Valley and New Mexico State highlighted the risks when fans and players collide.
The Western Athletic Conference suspended New Mexico State junior guard K.C. Ross-Miller for two games and senior forward Renaldo Dixon for one for violating the league’s sportsmanship policy following its review of the melee that occurred Thursday night in Orem, Utah.
Ross-Miller hurled the ball at Utah Valley’s Holton Hunsaker seconds after the Wolverines’ 66-61 victory over the NMSU Aggies. The ball hit Hunsaker – the son of Utah Valley coach Dick Hunsaker – in the leg. Some of the fans who stormed the court following the victory got caught up in the chaos and punches were thrown.
New Mexico State guard DK Eldridge was in the middle of the scrum before he was dragged away by Aggies coaches as order was restored. With the victory, the Wolverines claimed the top spot in the conference standings – their first year in the WAC.
While the brawl was touched off by Ross-Miller’s actions, it sparked renewed debate about player and fan interactions, and the dangers posed when fans rush the court. It was one of several incidents involving fans and players or coaches in recent months.
Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart charged into the stands at Texas Tech on Feb. 8 and shoved a fan who called him a “piece of crap.” Smart was suspended for three games and the fan later apologized.
Also in February, Oregon coach Dana Altman expressed concerns about safety after two of his staffers said an Arizona State student spit at them at halftime of a game in Tempe, Ariz. Ducks guard Jason Calliste had a verbal confrontation with at least one student late in the first half.
The NCAA does not have national rules regarding fans rushing the court because conference offices oversee regular-season rules in basketball, including discipline.
The SEC does ban the practice, imposing a $5,000 fine on the school for the first offense, and as much as $50,000 for subsequent infractions.
Reggie Minton, deputy executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, said his organization has discussed the issue in the past and it will be taken up again at meetings in April.
“The main concern is for the safety of the visiting players and coaching staff. Rushing the court almost always comes after a key victory or upset by the home team and there are people rushing the court who may or may not understand what sportsmanship is about,” Minton said.
Thursday night’s game was attended by a season-high 4,954 fans.