Thursday, July 25

How should broadcasts handle court-storming? On the line between documenting and glamorizing

Throughout a three-decade career as a prominent ESPN play-by-play broadcaster, Dave Pasch says he has been on the mic for two college basketball games that ended in a court-storming. One occurred earlier this month as unranked LSU upset Kentucky as time expired at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, La. Pasch recalled this week a conversation he and analyst Jay Williams had with an LSU athletics department staffer prior to the game.

“We asked, if they beat Kentucky, will they storm the court?” Pasch said. “He was like, ‘Nope, we don’t storm the court here. We’ve beaten Kentucky before.’ Well, they won on this crazy, last-second shot and, of course, they stormed the floor.”

In the game’s final sequence, you can clearly hear Williams say, “Didn’t we talk today about if LSU has the right protocol in place for a court storm?” as ESPN’s cameras aired a wide shot of LSU fans spilling onto the court.

The issue of court-storming went national this week after Wake Forest fans ran onto the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum floor following a win over Duke on Saturday. Cameras picked up video of multiple fans making contact with Duke star Kyle Filipowski, who ended up limping off the court, prompting Duke coach Jon Scheyer, fuming in a postgame press conference, to ask, “When are we going to ban court-storming?” Last month, Iowa star Caitlin Clark collided with an Ohio State fan after the Buckeyes’ upset of the Hawkeyes in Columbus, Ohio.


Should court-storming be banned — or at least made safer? ‘It’s a tough challenge’

ESPN producer Eric Mosley and director Mike Roig estimated they have worked 16 to 18 college games where fans of a team have stormed a court. A number of those court storms occurred when a team had a home upset of perennial heavyweights Duke, Kansas or Kentucky. Roig directed Arkansas’ 80-75 win over Duke on Nov. 29, and you can see the wide shot cut by Roig as fans flooded onto the Bud Walton Arena Floor.

Mosley said production planning for court-storming happens long before tip time. ESPN production crews pre-scout where they can find a safe place for their reporter and camera operators to interview a winning coach and player. Directors such as Roig hold meetings hours before games with camera operators to go over protocol and various scenarios including the storming of a court. The camera setup is such that viewers potentially get access to a lot of entry points. For a regular-season college basketball game, there are usually five non-manned hard and robotic cameras. Those are located in positions safe from the crowd. Then there are three hand-held cameras which are helmed by operators situated on the baselines and centre court. (The overhead camera for Wake Forest-Duke got the best shot of what happened to Filipowski.)

“One of the first questions we ask when we get on-site with the (sports information director) for certain games is whether there is an appetite for a court storming or if security kind of allows that,” Mosley said. “We find out where the student section is and what the security situation is there. We ask where can we get our cameras and reporter to meet a coach and star player for that postgame interview? We try and get ahead of that stuff as early as possible because we don’t want to get caught in a position where our folks like Holly Rowe, Jess Sims, Kris Budden and our camera folks are unsafe. We don’t want them trapped and trampled. For the most part, we have been pretty successful.”

The play-by-play broadcaster for the Duke-Arkansas game was Dan Shulman, who estimated he has called 20 to 25 games that have involved court-storming during his career as an ESPN broadcaster. (Shulman is also the TV voice of the Toronto Blue Jays.)

“As fun as they can look on TV, I have always been worried about what could happen,” Shulman said. “I remember a court-storming at a Louisville-Charlotte game I was doing, and Doris Burke, who was the sideline reporter on the game, was trying to get an interview with the Charlotte coach, and I was worried for her safety. It was complete chaos on the court.

“Whenever there is a court-storming, it’s hard for us at our table really to see much of what is going on. All we can really see are the people closest to our table. Sometimes the student section may be behind our broadcast location, so knowing they are heading our way to the court can obviously be a bit disconcerting as you are trying to navigate a broadcast. I think for the most part, people in television hope that when these do happen, it is all good fun, and no one gets hurt. There’s no question it’s a good visual on TV, which is enjoyed by a lot of viewers. But to me, the risk outweighs the reward.”

Wake Forest fans took over their home court after Saturday’s win. An injury to Duke’s Kyle Filipowski has reignited discussion around court-storming. (Grant Halverson / NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

Bob Fishman agrees with Shulman. Fishman retired from CBS Sports last year after 50 years of employment between CBS News and CBS Sports and directed 39 NCAA men’s Final Fours, including Michael Jordan’s title-winning shot in the 1982 title game and North Carolina State’s upset of Houston the following year. Fishman said he has thought a lot recently about court-storming and would never tell a camera operator to run onto the court during one, making sure they held a position under the basket and shot what they could.

“I’m pretty firm on what I think should be done — you can’t ignore it,” Fishman said. “It’s not like a streaker running across the field at a football game, which you don’t show. I think that you have to show it because it’s part of the story and especially now since players have been injured. How I would do it is throw up a wide shot of some sort, maybe from a backboard camera or from a high beauty camera as we call it. Then I would make sure that my cameras on the court were recording everything and that stuff was being fed into a tape machine. I would never put that on the air. But I do think you have to show something, which would in my mind (be) a high shot.”

Broadcasters and production crew, especially at a 24/7 news outlet such as ESPN, have to follow the story until its conclusion, whether they are live on air or not.

“We have to keep in mind that the documentation continues even when we’re off the air,” Mosley said. “We have to treat it as a news story. For example, some of the Filipowski stuff happened after the crew had already signed off and the network transferred to another game. We’re taught and told repeatedly that we need to stay there and document as long as we can. That’s because somebody is going to be looking for that stuff.”

Mosley and Roig say they often think about how to navigate documenting a court-storming without glorifying the action.

“It’s a hard question to answer,” Roig said. “You’re both documenting and kind of glamorizing it at the same time. As a director, you’re toeing that line. We’re always taught as directors when that one person comes onto the court or the field, you don’t show them. Because more people will do it if you show them. It’s go wide and away. But this is a little different animal, right? We’re talking about hundreds and hundreds of people coming onto the court. … You blur the line of documentation or glorifying it. You have to have the mindset of you are documenting it, but at the same time, you have to be careful of how you document it.”

During a segment on ESPN’s “First Take” on Monday, longtime ESPN college basketball commentator Jay Bilas was critical of sports broadcasters glamorizing court-storming.

“Years ago when fans would run out on the field or court during a game, it was network policy not to show that because we didn’t want to encourage it,” Bilas said. “So what does that say about the way we in the media use these images now? We can’t deny that we encourage it. Or at least tacitly approve of it. Everybody has to accept some responsibility for this. I don’t think it is the right thing to allow this, but I know it’s going to continue.”

Said Roig: “It’s really a touchy point because as directors, it’s a great scene, right? You want to showcase that. But I’ve never had one prior to seeing the one last week (with Wake Forest-Duke) where it got to that point where it was not fun anymore.”


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(Top photo of the scene after Saturday’s Duke-Wake Forest game: Cory Knowlton / USA Today)