GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley questioned Tennessee’s commitment to security Monday, two days after fans stormed the basketball court to celebrate the Volunteers’ home victory against the previously unbeaten Gators.
Foley said a member of Tennessee’s operations staff warned the Gators before the game that if the Vols won the students would rush the court if UT won and there was nothing that could be done to stop them.
«In my opinion, it should have been handled better,» Foley said. «Before the game starts, if you have an idea that’s going to happen and there’s nothing you do about it, it makes you wonder how much planning went into it.»
The Southeastern Conference could fine Tennessee $5,000 for the celebration — the standard penalty for first-time offenders under league rules that prohibit spectators from going onto the court during or after a game. A second offense calls for a $25,000 fine; a third costs $50,000.
The policy, which only affects football and basketball games, went into effect Dec. 1, 2004. It came about two weeks after a brawl involving players and fans at the Indianapolis Pacers-Detroit Pistons game and a brawl among players in the Clemson-South Carolina football game.
«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.»
Foley called SEC commissioner Mike Slive after the game to complain. Foley also said the punishment might need to be stiffer in hopes of forcing schools to do more to prevent similar situations, and said it likely will addressed at the league’s annual meetings in May.
Foley and coach Billy Donovan said they were concerned about the safety of players, coaches and staff members.
Two years ago at Georgia, fans rushed the court following the Bulldogs’ 76-62 victory over the Gators, and videotapes showed one of them taking a swing at Florida guard Matt Walsh.
«There is a point where somebody’s going to do something and there’s going to be a major problem,» Donovan said. «I hope it doesn’t happen.»
Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said Monday he shook hands with Donovan after the game and told him to get his team off the floor, fearing some of the 24,011 fans — the sixth largest crowd ever at a men’s game in Knoxville — would stream onto the court.
«We’ve got to learn how to handle it with our crowd control and understand the responsibility that we have to the safety and well being of our guests,» Pearl said. «If this fine draws attention to that fact, let’s talk about. Let’s congratulate the fans on an amazing atmosphere, but understand we can’t have that happen for the safety of the opponents.
«Again, I’m not at all unhappy with our fans or upset with the students. I share their enthusiasm. But we did it this one time. Let’s not do it again.»
Florida players, meanwhile, said they were unfazed by the celebration.
«I had no problem with those guys rushing the floor,» Gators forward Adrian Moss said. «It’s an emotional game. We can’t be mad if they rush the floor if they win. We should have taken care of business and not even given them a chance to do that.»