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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2006-03-30

Regional Mayhem?
Security Problems, Court Runners Mar Oakland Regional

By Jack Gruber, USA TODAY

Photo by Jay Drowns / Sporting News

Photo by Jay Drowns / Sporting News

USA TODAY staffer Jack Gruber, left, has a heated exchange with the stadium security manager in Oakland after the Gonzaga vs. UCLA game.
You might have heard about all the commotion caused by a little court running incident at an NCAA regional ball game last week in Oakland. What happened before the final buzzer of that game was just as bad as the post-game mayhem so many have debated on the SportsShooter.com message boards and other websites and was written about in Kevin Modesti's column in the Los Angeles Daily News. ("Technically, they're getting in the way of a good story" http://tinyurl.com/kv35p)

During the final timeout with seconds on the clock and UCLA just taking the lead away from what was a sure win by Gonzaga, Oakland stadium security ran out on the court and positioned themselves right along the baseline in front of the photo boxes. They needed to control the floor. Yelling and obscenities by blocked photographers were hurled and the startled stadium security folks looked shocked and ran away.

Disaster averted? Not so fast.

What happened next in a span of 15 seconds or so is what is becoming typical at every event from high school state championships to the Super Bowl. The final buzzer sounds and the same security people who were unsure what to do a few seconds before, now have their orders from the security manager to stand exactly where they were told and get there as quickly after the buzzer as they can. Do not relent or acknowledge anyone telling you to move.

Time ticks off, buzzer sounds and then the chaos begins.

Photo by Aric Crabb / Oakland Tribune

Photo by Aric Crabb / Oakland Tribune

This is the view from Aric Crabb's baseline photo postion after the Oakland Region semifinal game between Gonzaga and UCLA Thursday night at the Oakland Arena as photographers, camera opertators and who knows else moves onto the the floor.
Like lightning, security was in place on the sideline in Oakland in the fraction of a second before any jubilation had started. Three pairs of legs and bodies were standing on the baseline in front of myself and the other outer photo box photographers. My view down court is all but completely blocked. I know there are players on the court both happy and sad but all I can see are tan slacks and nothing else.

I am blocked for a moment but it will clear up as security move on. There is no way they would position right in front of the working photographers.

Mistake.

I am in the outer most photo position. Probably the one perfect spot for post big game win situations like this. One of the main reasons the outer photo box spots are so choice is not for the action but for that celebration. There is really no blocking by anyone and there is a very clean long look back into the benches and down court. This is what you expect. You can't go out on the court at an NCAA tournament game so you stay seated and shoot.

Well, until Oakland.

In the span of fifteen seconds, with security blocking the view down court of numerous photographers who are sitting and kneeling in assigned spots to shoot the post game celebrations/dejections because the floor should be open and unobstructed with no one rushing on to the court, suddenly you are in a winless yelling match with security.

Finally, jostling for position in the precious few seconds that you know will produce photos, a view of the court is found and suddenly the entire court seems full of photographers, one at mid court and others on the fringes.

Did I screw up? Was the floor open and were photographers now allowed at NCAA tournaments to rush the floor?

As quickly as it started, it is over. It happens so fast and is over so quickly that when you think back and try to figure out if you should have gotten up quicker and moved to see the action better or even rush out on to the court in worst case scenario, you realize it was just seconds that had passed by. In that time of getting up and repositioning, fighting with security moving with you to keep you from going on the court even when you are trying to work from the allowed sidelines, you are going to miss pictures. It happens that fast.

Photo by Jack Gruber / USA TODAY

Photo by Jack Gruber / USA TODAY

This is what Gruber saw through his lens when he tried to shoot the post-game jube/dejection after the Gonzaga vs. UCLA game in Oakland.
If you read the media guide handed out at the Oakland Regional and the Print Photo Policies (Appendix 4), nowhere in it does it state the obvious. No photographer can go on to the court following a game. It states where you can work from following the first of a two game session and following the final game of a session--basically the sideline and aprons. The only no-no really is "NOTE: At no time may photographers work from directly behind the official and team benches."

Everyone knows, however, at the NCAA tournament, no photographers on the court, period. It may be a grey area at a conference championship or high school state finals but at the NCAA tournament, the court is off limits.

The stadium security manager in Oakland told me during a pretty heated exchange, long after the floor cleared, that he hoped to have everything worked out by Saturday and the finals. All of these problems would be fixed but it was their job to control the floor.

Pretty doubtful after being physically grabbed just seconds earlier by a security person while yelling at me to get off the court and forcefully moving me while I was "talking" to this security manager while standing in a marked photo spot along the baseline.

Nothing he did to ensure a smooth Saturday was going to get the lost pictures back from Thursday.

True, a few photographers did the court run at the conclusion of the Gonzaga-UCLA game. There were nice images made, one in particular of Gonzaga's Adam Morrison at center court. When one goes, the dam breaks. But with those pictures, there would be a price to pay.

NCAA policy is that no photographer can go on to the court following a game. That is what stadium security is tasked with avoiding. They have their orders and jobs to do and with photographers making the decision to go on to the court, there would be consequences at the final game on Saturday.

Security at Saturday's UCLA and Memphis final had orders to control the floor. If a photographer rushed on to the court, arrest would be immediate by Oakland police.

Listening to all the debate over the pros and cons of photographers rushing into the off-limit territory, there seemed to be two consistent arguments. One, the important image was there at center court and someone needed to get it. Journalistic responsibility was to capture that moment and deal with it by burning a bridge and break the no on court rule. The other side debated how with one photographer opening up the can of worms to get this photo, others working photographers would be blocked or would begin to filter out on to the floor because someone else did. Thus causing the problems for all to cover that game and future games in Oakland.

Photo by Jack Gruber / USA TODAY

Photo by Jack Gruber / USA TODAY

This was the scene on the floor when Gonzaga star Adam Morrison cried after the heartbreaking loss to UCLA in Oakland.
I personally think the biggest failure at the Oakland Regional was the hosting school tasked to "organize" the site in Oakland along with the stadium security. Oakland doesn't typically handle a NCAA regional event of this size and the host school from San Francisco dropped the ball in a big way. They don't do this event planning everyday and it was obvious. The only plan in place was to just let security do their thing after the game to control the floor--those are the exact words from the Oakland Stadium security manager following the UCLA-Gonzaga semi-final game.

Just letting Oakland Stadium Security do their thing is a plan most Bay Area photographers who routinely cover Oakland Raider football games will attest to as not a very healthy plan. These are the same security who will harass photographers at Raider football games because their long lens is casting a shadow over the photo restrain line at the game.

That was not a joke, it actually happened.

When post game celebrations turn into NCAA organizers ripping credentials off working photographers necks and security physically assaulting TV and still photographers to control a "make it up as we go" court control plan, things have gone terribly wrong.

I don't care how organized the credential pick up ran or how scrumptious the media buffet was prior to the games. I came a day early to pick up credentials to beat the crowds and I never ate the media food. I just wanted to be able to do my job and cover a basketball game.

Photo by Rod Mar / Seattle Times

Photo by Rod Mar / Seattle Times

After getting blocked from his baseline position by the photographer in the light blue shirt (kneeling) Rod Mar moves up on to the "apron" (painted part of the sidelines), which is a place designated as an approved place to shoot from.
After the chaos on Thursday with still photographers making their way to center court, many predicted that at the final game two days later between Memphis and UCLA, the NCAA would issue ultimatum to stay off the court. The only word I personally received was given out by officials during team warm ups that there would be a 30 second hold before photographers could go out on to the court and everyone had to stay out of the three point areas when the nets were cut down.

All of this seemed a little too loose of a plan. Thirty seconds? Three point line? Didn't they realize that the players probably wouldn't contain their joyful glee or dejection inside the three point areas? There was also a trophy celebration and wasn't that going to be a mid court?

"We will make it so everyone will get their shots." Those were also the exact words of the Oakland Stadium operations manager before the start of the UCLA-Memphis game. I was actually still smarting from the Thursday fiasco and voiced my doubt. Two photographers along the sideline with me actually were a bit peeved and told me to calm down. "We all still have to work with these guys." I was still throwing fuel on to the fire and not making nice with the stadium crew.

I am not the sharpest tool in the shed but when the stadium crew starts telling me that they will be responsible for me getting my images, I am dubious.

Was I wrong? Nope.

With UCLA heading to the bench with the "just give us the trophy and let us cut down the nets, thank you" attitude, Oakland Stadium folks proceeded to create theater in the round at center court.

Photo by Aric Crabb / Oakland Tribune

Photo by Aric Crabb / Oakland Tribune

Marico J. Sanchez, staff photographer for the Associated Press is confronted and has his credential removed by Oakland Region media director Pete Simon during the post game celebration during the Oakland Region Final.
In order to "allow all the photographers to get their shots", crews began to set up a stage close to the team benches while security roped off the center third of the court finally allowing photographers to fill in at center court for the trophy presentation.

Problem was, the trophy was presented to UCLA facing the team benches and the UCLA fans with security ropes keeping photographers to the sides. Some photographers were able to get inside the ropes in time but most were behind the entire scene or unable to get into the confined area quickly enough once security realized their goof and the trophy was already raised.

But when things start to go bad, nothing can really stop the madness. Once the nets started to come down, that is when the gloves finally came off. Security and officials realized they had no plan and had lost all control. At this point, it was ugly. AP staff photographer Marcio Sanchez had his credentials ripped from his neck. Others were physically pushed. It was something right out of the "how not to handle things" manual.

Watching the tournament media director running around the court wildly chasing television away from impromptu interviews with players and ripping credentials from photographers necks while stadium security guarded invisible no access lines all seemed too insane to be true.

Am I angry? I guess you take what you can get and move on. At one point, with all this craziness revolving around the entirely too long net cutting ceremony with the entire UCLA medical staff, statisticians, childhood friends and so on cutting down pieces of the nets, I looked over at Getty's Jed Jacobsohn who also had a look of amazement on his face, "Oakland, the little Regional that thought they could…"

But on a positive note, I did hear the media buffet was wonderful, thank you, Oakland.


(Jack Gruber is a staff photographer with USA TODAY based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is a frequent contributor to Sports Shooter and Sports Shooter educational events.)

Related Links:
Message Board Thread: Get Off the Court!
Gruber's member page

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