It’s (Court) Storm Season: Replete With Potential Liability and NCAA Inaction

Apr 5, 2024

By Joshua D. Winneker, Professor at Misericordia University

Recently, a scary scene unfolded in women’s college basketball when one of its best and most popular players, Caitlin Clark, almost saw her career come to a sudden halt after Ohio State upset No. 2 Iowa.[1]  Following the surprising victory, the Ohio State fans stormed the court and one of the fans blindsided Clark, knocking her down and knocking the wind out of her.[2]  Thankfully, Clark did not suffer serious injury, but this situation brings up a potential civil liability issue along with the question of why the NCAA still has not responded to the on-going court storming problem.

I previously wrote about civil liability in court storming and the NCAA’s failures in The Calm Before the (Court) Storm: Potential Fan Liability and the NCAA’s Necessary Response.[3]  In that article, I explained that fans storming the court and subsequently injuring one of the players could face a civil lawsuit.  The law for injured participants at the hands of co-participants in contact sporting events is well-settled in that negligence actions are not viable but suits for recklessness or intentional conduct can go forward.[4] 

In the case of a fan injuring a participant after the game, however, it appears that not only are recklessness and intentional conduct still possible claims but negligence lawsuits would also be likely.[5]  The fan in response, while not a co-participant, may argue that the players assumed the risk of negligent contact by playing the contact sport.[6]  Players can only assume the risk of harm inherent to the sport itself and while court storming is becoming alarmingly more popular, it is not inherent to the sport of basketball – – the game can be played without court storming.[7]

Regarding the Ohio State game, the fan who injured Clark did not appear to purposefully hit Clark, but at a minimum the fan’s actions were negligent and likely reckless.  Had Clark’s injuries been severe or career ending, the fan would have been facing a large monetary judgment against them for Clark’s current and future earnings.  It has been reported that Clark’s Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) deals have an annual value of $818,000[8], and she has a bright future as a future first round WNBA pick.

It should not come as too big of a surprise that the court storming incident occurred during a Big Ten home game.  The Big Ten has historically been very relaxed when it comes to court storming and even in some cases has promoted court storming on its social media.  In 2016, Penn State fans stormed the court without any penalty after beating No. 4 Iowa.[9]  In 2014, Indiana fans stormed the court after beating No. 3 Wisconsin, and the Big Ten Network posted a video of the court storm on its official Twitter account.[10]

While Clark’s fan encounter occurred during a Big Ten home game, it is not just a Big Ten problem; it is an overall NCAA problem.  The NCAA currently does not have a policy against court storming during the season and instead relies on the conferences to police and penalize the issue.  Not surprisingly, the NCAA only works to prohibit court storming during its own March Madness Championship tournament[11], which is of course a large revenue producer for the NCAA.

The NCAA needs to respond to this continual problem.  It is fortunate that Clark did not get seriously injured but maybe it takes a high profile player like Clark to be involved in a court storming encounter for the NCAA to finally step up and protect the players.  Leaving it to the conferences is obviously not working.  Indeed, a Big Ten official has been on record stating that the conference does not want to fine schools for a problem that does not exist.[12]  I guess almost ending the career of one of the best players in the country is not a “problem”.

This article originally appeared in University of Denver Sports & Entertainment Law Journal

[1] Alexa Philippou, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark: Colliding with Buckeyes fan ‘kind of scary’, ESPN (Jan. 21, 2024),

[2] Id.

[3] Joshua D. Winneker & Sam C. Ehrlich, The Calm Before the (Court) Storm: Potential Fan Liability and the NCAA’s Necessary Response, 27 Marq. Sports L. Rev. 425 (2017) Available at:

[4] Id at 441-44.

[5] Id. at 444.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Susan M. Shaw, Storming the Court isn’t Worth the Risks, Forbes (Jan. 26. 2024),

[9] Winneker & Ehrlich, supra note 4, at 438-39.

[10] Id.

[11] Id. at 434.

[12] Eric Olsen & Pete Iacobelli, Caitlin Clark’s collision with a fan raises court-stroming concerns. Will conferences respond? AP (Jan. 22, 2024),

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