One makes for a one-off, but two constitutes a tradition. It's now unthinkable to end Season 6 without having our friends from Storming The Floor over during Championship Fortnight, to discuss one of the most hallowed of all college basketball rituals: the taking of the court. Our First Annual Floor-Storming Symposium occurred one year ago; welcome, now, to the Second.
Marco Anskis and Eric "Extra P." Angevinewrote the rules on storming the floor many years ago, a living document that changes and transmogrifies with each college basketball annum. And in this topsy-turvy 2009-10 season, fans have looked to them to arbitrate disputes on when to and when not to. We discussed the evolution of the art and craft of storming, new rules that have been put in place this year, and disturbing new crackdowns on these acts of simultaneous and barely-organized hardwood takeovers. We also talked about storming at an advancing age, the First Time vs. the next bunch of times, court-rushing at the NCAA Tournament, and the shocking in-plain-sight robbery of STF's prized rulebook by a deranged sportzopath.
Also this year, we have a special new addition to the Symposium proceedings. We put out a call for your court storming stories, and you responded. We've included a few of them here, interspersed with the Q&A, to offer some added perspective on the anticipation, fear, regret, vindication and relief that are all bound up in this Championship Fortnight experience. And, also, the explosive joy that happens when the emotional investment in a basketball team finally pays off.
TMM: A lot's changed since the inaugural FSS last year. For one thing, we're all older and farther away from our court-storming prime. And there have literally been like 6,000 college basketball games since then. What's the state of Hoops Nation, as far as floor storming goes?
Eric: Storming is getting cheaper by the week. I was asked my opinion on this by the Charlotte Observer earlier during a week when South Carolina, Western Carolina, and Charlotte had all stormed early in the season. It now looks very likely that none of those teams will make it to the NCAA tournament. Of course, that's been the argument levied on us by Twitter fiends. People are saying "we don't get to celebrate much, let us have our fun." This is the kind of thinking that's going to land us in a 96-team tournament. Special wins are rare; storming should be also.
Marco: I think the biggest change is the overall public awareness of what is considered a legitimate storming and what is considered garbage - which has its pros and cons. A pro is that you that you now can have student section leaders in normally-rowdy Kansas State convincing jacked-up students not to take the floor in a win over No. 1 Texas because they were a Top 10 team and didn't need to storm the floor. I'll go to my grave thinking that the STF rules had an influence on that decision at K-State. A major con is that I can't watch a court storming on SportsCenter ever again without someone questioning whether it's a legitimate storming or not. TMM:Has the changing landscape of floor storming led to any changes to the famous rules this year? I know there have been some close calls and reviews, albeit mostly up above the Red Line, like that thing or whatever Marco just mentioned.
Eric: We're working with the rules as they are, pretty much. Now we're in the most important part of a flexible constitutional democracy - the addition of a Bill of Rights (and responsibilities) based on current happenings. We wrote the Blue Balls Exception following Texas Tech's win over Washington, in which they had a buzzer-beater overruled and had to win OT to earn their storming. We didn't want them to go home all pinched. Of course, that ruling is secondary to the fact that it was way too early in the season. Both schools turned out to be horrible, despite Washington's national ranking at the time. The other was the College of Charleston Backstep, in which we made fun of Cougar fans for storming against Wofford when they had no historical rivalry and CofC had just beaten UNC (before anyone knew how truly putrid they were). The folks in Charleston might feel vindicated now that Wofford has the league's auto-bid, but that's revisionist history.
Marco: The Blue Balls Exception was definitely an area that needed to be addressed and was probably the biggest change of the 2009-10 season - until today. We are proud to announce that as of March 10, the official anthem of storming the floor is - "Sandstorm." Just makes too much sense. Get your glowsticks ready!
TMM:I think that song was specifically written for floor storming. There's that first 30 seconds of anticipation and tension, then it all breaks the f*ck loose.
I got to storm the floor at the 2006 CAA championship game. I spent the whole weekend in Richmond watching the UNC Wilmington Seahawks defeat Delaware and Northeastern before facing Hofstra for the title. Before the championship game the Richmond Coliseum crew (un)wisely placed the students of Hofstra and UNCW in bordering lines. We waited for to get in an hour before tip-off. After both sides spent time exchanging slurs and posturing for physical fights, the doors finally opened, and both student sections were able to release their anger at the opposing teams' players. A big UNCW lead in the first half dwindled down slowly in the second half, as Loren Stokes hit big shot after big shot for Hofstra. But late in the game, T.J. Carter took over the game and UNCW pulled away late.
In the final minute, the Coliseum security staff started instructing the students on how the court storming was to take place. They asked us to start moving chairs and tables to get rid of all the barriers. It strikes me now at how orchestrated the ensuing celebration was. Of course this was necessary in order to reduce injury (and liability for the league). But the unbridled joy and enthusiasm when the buzzer sounded made the rush onto the floor seem just as spontaneous and organic as it needed to be. I was a few rows off the court, and remember storming onto the floor as the team celebrated and waved us over to join them. The students in the center picked up T.J. Carter onto their shoulders, as a coronation of the tournament MVP.
The moment of joy has become increasingly important to me as since then UNCW lost our coach, as well as all of the remaining players, from that championship team. We have had three 20 loss seasons in the last 4 years. This season, the athletic director fired our coach two days before homecoming -- after the team suffered a 39 point loss to that same Hofstra team that we had defeated five seasons ago for an NCAA bid. Even though UNCW was blown out in the play-in-round this year by Towson, I' watched the CAA championship between Old Dominion and William and Mary, and watched the ODU fans join their team on the court for a celebration.
I hope they remember it for years, because a successful team can become a mediocre, or bad, team very quickly. This is a sport where no player can remain on a team for more than 4 years. All they need to do is ask fans of fellow CAA teams like James Madison, Georgia State, and now UNCW how quickly that championship feeling can turn into despair... and multiple years of frustration and heartbreak. If you are student at a championship school, that feeling of catharsis and joy from rushing the court in celebration will never be forgotten.
- Terry Hobgood
TMM: One thing I've noticed about Championship Fortnight so far is that court storming is very prominent in the minds of event organizers. The Metro Atlantic even issued a weaksauce plea last weekend asking people not to. And we haven't had the kind of full-throttle bum rush that makes you feel like you're rushing the floor just by watching it on TV. What does this all mean for the future? Is the golden age of court storming over?
Eric: It's kind of like the rave movement. When it was underground, and only a few people were doing it, it was cool. Then everyone started waving glowsticks and dancing like they were swatting flies, and it became just another excuse to party. College kids like excuses to party, so I doubt we'll ever be able to go back to a more innocent time. *sigh*
However, I will say that the student leaders at Butler are doing a great job. I was standing by them when the Bulldogs beat OSU, and they were not about to let anyone go out there. Not because of "the rules" but because they felt it wasn't appropriate for a team that good. Marco and I also gave kudos to Kansas State fans for not storming when they beat Texas, though we don't know the circumstances of that situation.
Marco: I think that two things have significantly altered the size and intensity of the stormings in the early part of the week. First, heavy favorites and likely NCAA Tournament teams like Old Dominion, Northern Iowa, Butler and Saint Mary's have basically ruled Championship Fortnight thus far, eliminating the HOLYSHITWEMADETHEDANCELETSTAKETHECOURT! sense of euphoria from you get from a newbie school.
Second, the increased use of off-campus, NBA-style arenas for conference tournaments is destroying any and all storming possibles. I totally get the the conference mindset of using an NBA arena to look "big time," but it's killing the atmosphere. Not only does it significantly limit the amount of students that can make the trip (especially from cash-strapped schools below the Red Line), but the Floor Stormstapo (more on them later) employed by most of these arenas are ruthless. I'm convinced that this is the reason we didn't see an epic storming from Wofford on Monday night. Still, there's plenty time left in Championship Fortnight and I've got a feeling that if Quinnipiac wins tonight, this question is going to look silly.
And yeah, I'll agree that the innocence of the floor storming - particularly above the Red Line - may be lost forever; once you enter the sportz cycle, there is no way of reversing it. Recent stormings from the likes of Illinois and Ohio State (two national semifinals within the past five seasons), after very non-momentous victories, shows how the true meaning can get watered-down very quickly. And people wonder why we are so strict in our rulings!
TMM:Another major trend is the increase of floor-storming security around Hoops Nation. Last year at the MAC, there was an overzealous rent-a-cop who came up to me when I was getting into position for the Akron storm, and when I flashed my media credential, he said, "I don't care who you are, you're not going on the floor." And of course, there was no floor storming -- the Akron fans were victims of a chilling effect. I saw this first-hand at the OVC, A-Sun and Sun Belt last year... a menacing-looking cop scaring the kids into staying put. (I only got in one good storm, and that was at the Valley.) And now, look. Wofford fans were hemmed in. Siena fans were on the internet talking about security brutality after Monday night. What do you attribute this brutal crackdown to?
Eric: Pure and simple fascism. The players don't seem to mind. I've read a couple of quotes this year from scholarship athletes who got caught in a storming, and they seemed to think it was great. So it has to be the suits and their lawyers instituting the crackdown. I'm here to tell you, if you stop kids from running on the floor, they'll think of something more dangerous to do: jumping from the upper deck with streamers, body-surfing in the stands... anywhere they congregate, they will celebrate. Do you want all those frustrated people storming the whole town, like they did in College Park?
Marco: I know I touched on it a bit in the last question, but I want to make this clear: the unchecked aggression on the Floor Stormstapo (thanks, Kyle) is the biggest threat to the floor storming movement... even bigger than the sportz cycle. Seriously, just look at this rent-a-cop abuse this poor female Siena fan... ruining what may be one of the seminal moments of her college experience.
In fact, I think the entire Mid-Majority fan base needs to unite together and take a stand against the Floor Stormstapo. Despite the fact that neither Kyle, The Robot or Bally (the one who is really behind this entire operation) has given me permission to do so, I'm going to offer a challenge to the audience: The person to create the most creative ribbon to promote Floor Stormstapo Abuse Awareness (FSAA) will win one of the six remaining STF t-shirts (hope you're an XL!).
TMM:Oh, you don't need our permission... this is a creative court storm of the mind. We're too busy looking for new applications of Godwin's Law to college basketball, anyway.
It was 2004, and I was deep into the Horizon League. I was headed to US Cellular Arena in Milwaukee to watch Jimmy Collins' University of Illinois-Chicago Flames (the two seed) take on the top seeded University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers (coached by Bruce Pearl) in the championship game. I had seen these two teams play many times. When these teams played, they left everything on the court. The best college basketball game I've ever witnessed in person was a triple OT thriller earlier that year between the Flames and the Panthers. Sitting in the stands with my brother, we marveled that this game was for real. The lead changed so many times and each team hit so many clutch 3's that it seemed more like a film than an actual game. I was on my feet so much during this game that my knees began to ache. Jonathon Schneiderman (try putting that on a jersey) hit the winning three for UIC in the third OT with the game clock in single digits. Best game ever.
The blood between these teams was bad. Very, very bad. I picked up a single ticket at the box office and hit a shabby little diner for a grilled cheese, fries and cup of coffee. I was so jacked up and nervous I spilled my coffee on my sandwich. I knew the Horizon would be a one bid league and I knew how hard this game would be to win. At that diner, drinking weak coffee, I called my brother who was living in Colorado. I knew he would be watching the game on ESPN. When he picked-up the phone I said, "If they win, I'm storming the court. Look for me." I was wearing a bright orange shirt. And I'd easily be the oldest guy out there.
I don't remember much about that game, except that it was close throughout. The game was close up until the final minute. Milwaukee was forced to foul and UIC hit their free throws, icing the game with a 65-62 score. As the clock ticked down, I looked for a clear path to the court. I headed toward the student section, hung my coat on a chair, and ducked in with kids half my age. When the clock hit zero, I ran out on the court leaving the college kids in my dust. I high-fived the Flames and bounced up and down, elated. I knew this moment was precious and rare, and I was overcome with emotion. Standing at center court, looking out at the Milwaukee crowd shuffling toward the exits, I reveled in the sheer joy of following a team all season and seeing them beat a higher seed to make the tournament. I was breathless. I knew it wouldn't last, though.
After a few minutes, security cleared us out. The Horizon League trophy was awarded and nets were cut down. My phone rang and my brother excitedly told me that he saw me on ESPN2. I walked to my car, called my wife and told her the news. On the ride home, I listened to the game recap, and then turned off the radio. I rode in silence, re-playing the game, the season -- all the seasons -- in my head. It was good to be fan. I felt lucky and full of hope.
UIC lost in the first round to Oklahoma. Their game was out West somewhere. Maybe Anaheim. But the Flames didn't embarrass themselves. They haven't been back to the tournament since, nor have they made the championship game of the Horizon. Bruce Pearl left UWM after the 2005 season; he, of course, is now the head coach of Tennessee. Jimmy Collins remains at UIC, enigmatic and unpredictable. I have two kids now, and I no longer have the time to see 30 or more games live each season.
But I remain ready to storm the court, and I like to think I'd still beat most of the college kids to the center court logo. But mostly, I feel lucky that I had the opportunity to follow the Flames, to get to know their players and coaches and that I had the chance to celebrate a special, historic moment with them on center court at US Cellular Arena. And somewhere, in the archives at ESPN, there is a tape of a very old guy, in a very orange shirt, running wildly with a deranged smile on his face. Years ago his team went dancing and he was there to see it.
- Steve Timble
TMM: Okay, since you guys think about this all the time, should there be rules about who should storm the court? Should there be an expectation that if you sit in a certain section, you should be ready/willing/able to run? Or is that too un-P.C.? The floor is no country for old men, obviously. I have two skinned knees and an elbow bruise to show for my years of "seeking the core."
Eric: It's a young person's game, for sure. I have personally felt a bit odd being on the floor with students these days. I have a beard that's going grey, so I obviously don't fit in. I usually have my camera with me, so that makes me feel like I have a reason to be there. That said, our generation invented slam-dancing (moshing came later), so don't doubt our willingness to mix it up, kids.
Marco: While I'm not totally opposed to letting just anyone take the floor, but I do think it's a student thing. Besides, as anyone who has seen the eye of the storm can attest, it's not a place for the weak. Hell, I almost blew out a knee in 2008 while taking the floor in A.C. after Temple took the A-14 title.
TMM:One place we don't see court storming is the NCAA Tournament. Everything is so sterile and controlled; it's like the college basketball we know and love, in someone else's Petri dish. Is the fact that there's no storming at the Dance bad thing or a good thing? Is a NCAA court storm a Holy Grail of sorts?
Eric: Well, I have to say, I don't mind that so much. I always give that arrogant "We didn't storm at Kansas" answer, but that's not technically true. We stormed the hell out of the campus every time KU won a regional final, national semi, or Championship. I was in Lucas Oil Stadium this year, and I've seen how far away some of these folks will be sitting in the Final Four. You're going to need to get in shape if you want to storm there.
Marco: Whenever I see clips of the crowd rushing the court at the old Boston Garden during the NBA Finals or of those two dudes circling the bases with Hank Aaron after he hit 715, I think, "Damn, wouldn't it be cool to see an intense floor storming after a 15 downs a 2?'. But I'm a realist and know that you have a better chance of seeing Kenny Powers replace J.J. Jumper as the official NCAA mascot than you do of seeing fans take the floor in the NCAA Tournament. I mean, look what they did in freakin' Albany to keep the home fans off the court! The NCAA would surround the court in a moat filled with crocodile needlefish if they thought that storming was going to be an issue.
Screw the NCAA Tournament... they have it 100 percent wrong on defining "One Shining Moment." You want a One Shining Moment? It's when every person associated with a team storms the court after they win their conference championship. It's the point in time in which everything comes together as one. The team that has successfully worked their asses off all year to win their conference coming together the fans that have cheered their hearts out all year to witness and be a part of this moment.
Prior to last year, I had only read about and watched court stormings. They looked like incredible fun: a mosh-pit of bodies, all of which are filled with pure joy because their team is going to the Big Dance. As a junior at American University, I was actually dumb enough to miss my first opportunity. See, the Patriot League Tournament fell during spring break of 2008 and even though the final was at American, I decided that I was content watching my school on ESPN2. I was indeed content, until we won and I saw my fellow AU students rush the floor.
I was pissed that I missed it, and swore I'd never miss that chance again. Luckily, American had basically the same team in 2009 that they did in 2008. We ran through the Patriot League, finishing 13-1 in conference. We won our first two games, and we were home against Holy Cross in the final. Even though it was during spring break again, I wasn't missing it this time. I also wasn't alone, as the student section was filled 45 minutes before tip. The game was incredible and it really seemed like a culmination of everything the team worked for all year. American gradually extended their lead to double digits and snuffed out every possible Holy Cross run. As we got into the final minutes, and everyone realized we were repeating, a mass migration of students headed towards our basket. We raised our keys and jingled them to a chorus of "Warm up the bus! Warm up the bus."
The final seconds are a blur. All I know is that the buzzer sounded, and I ran. I ran partially out of joy, partially out of a sense of survival. It didn't matter because WE WON! Pure unadulterated joy. I got to somewhere near center court as part of a sea of blue... and then the smell hit me. I was not ready for the B.O.
But then again, I really didn't care. We were dancing. It was incredible to be a part of, and will forever remain one of my fondest college memories.
- Steven Haber
TMM:OK, now it's time to get "controversial." Now, you guys pioneered the rules of court storming, but there are now hundreds of thousands of people out there who think that it was Rick Reilly who made this all up. This is only because intellectual property disputes are always decided in favor of the party with the bigger audience. What were your feelings when a bored, mail-it-in, millionaire hack jacked your signature concept last week?
Eric: I don't want to harm Marco's professional standing, so I won't share the multiple texts and emails I received in which Rick Reilly's name gained a new prefix that started with a capital "F". It's not like I think the idea was so revolutionary that nobody else can do it, but a simple web search would have pointed to the fact that we had already covered the topic pretty well.
Marco: It's frustrating, but not very surprising. Eric's right - it's not a revolutionary idea by any means, but at least the concept has stayed within the bubble of serious college hoop fans. With Reilly - who I'm guessing thinks the season began 10 days ago - tackling the issue, it's entered the sportz cycle, and there's no way of getting it back. For future reference, please stick to covering Tiger Woods' sex life and making odd dental jokes, Mr. Reilly, and leave this very, very small slice of the sports universe to us.
TMM:I will admit that are times when I have those blues that every writer experiences, the feeling that I'm not good enough and that I should just quit. Every so often, this feels like the hardest job in the world. Then I repeat to myself, "Rick Reilly has been voted National Sportswriter of the Year 11 times." That single sentence is the cure for writer's block, right there.
When it comes down to it, a court storming can be explained away as, "I just wanted to be out there with my classmates during their moment of ultimate glory." Is that so wrong? It's really a beautiful moment. During Championship Fortnight, it's five months of investment that peaks and crescendos as a moment of pure basketball love. So I have to ask: have you ever cried at a court storming? Man up and admit it.
Eric: I agree with you "ultimate glory" being the key phrase. It really seems penultimate to rush any time before March. I don't think I've ever cried, but I definitely get the goose bumps and throat lumps when I see how much it means to people. On the site right now I have one of my favorite photos, from last year's bid-clinching game at Radford. Two players are just hugging it out. It's beautiful, man.
Marco: What, you don't remember when I had to use Bally to dry my eyes at center count after Temple won the Atlantic 14 in 2008? THAT WAS OUR MOMENT, KYLE!
The serious answer is no... but the collective joy amongst the Temple faithful is a feeling that I'll never forget; a feeling so strong that's even causing goosebumps as I type this sentence.
TMM:I'm getting goosebumps reading it. Thanks to Eric and Marco, and everyone who submitted court storming stories.