Emotions Running High After Dawgs/Gators

AP Photo/Phil Sandlin

ATHENS - The rowdy scene at Georgia's Stegeman Coliseum on Tuesday night that infuriated Florida athletic director <b>Jeremy Foley</b> and basketball coach <b>Billy Donovan</b> has now drawn the attention of the Southeastern Conference.

Georgia athletic director Vince Dooley released a statement Wednesday saying he will prepare a report for SEC Commissioner Mike Slive to explain what happened when hundreds of fans stormed the court following the Bulldogs' 76-62 upset of the Gators. It was the second time in four days that Georgia fans stormed the court following a men's basketball game.

"Despite some extenuating circumstances surrounding the issue, there is no question we can and will do a better job of avoiding these types of problems in the future," Dooley's statement said.

Charles Bloom, an associate commissioner of the SEC, said the subject will be a point of emphasis at the next meeting of league athletic directors, which will take place at the SEC Tournament in Atlanta in March.

"That specific incident as well as basketball on-court security as a whole," Bloom said.

Slive attended Tuesday night's game but left before the incident, Bloom said. Slive has seen television footage.

When Georgia fans flooded the floor after the Bulldogs' 74-68 over Kentucky on Saturday, it barely drew any notice. However, the reaction of Foley and Donovan, and the allegation that Gator sophomore Matt Walsh was punched by a Bulldog fan, made Tuesday's incident a hot topic.

Foley acknowledged Wednesday that he was very upset after the game but denied a published report that he had an altercation with a Georgia fan. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Foley had to be restrained by police and quoted Foley as saying he was coming to the aid of Walsh.

"None of that happened, totally false," Foley said. "I'm 51 years old. I'm not going after anybody."

Foley's only intervention was to get an upset Walsh off the floor, he said.

"Matt Walsh got hit by a fan, Matt Walsh went to look for the guy, and I grabbed Matt Walsh and escorted him off the court," Foley said. Foley said he was uncertain if Walsh was merely jostled by a Bulldogs fan charging the court or if a fan targeted Walsh, but the player's father, Mike Walsh, said he saw a Georgia fan throw a punch at his son.

"One of the fans came up and Matt got bumped and spun around and another fan came up and took a swing at him," Mike Walsh said.

The blow hit Matt Walsh on the shoulder, his father said. Mike Walsh added that Florida officials told him Wednesday afternoon that the incident was caught on tape.

Walsh, who led the Gators with 28 points, was a target all night for Georgia fans, some of whom shouted, "Matt, you s---, Matt, you s---," on several occasions.

A representative of Florida's athletic department said Donovan wouldn't speak to The Macon Telegraph on Wednesday, but the coach had some harsh words to say before leaving Athens.

"Someone needs to do something here in Athens at the university. God forbid somebody gets killed, somebody gets paralyzed or someone yells a profanity and our kid hauls off and punches him, our kid's being sued, our kid's a bad kid," Donovan told the Athens Banner-Herald on Tuesday night. "Something's got to be done."

Donovan also told the Banner-Herald that he asked security officials about the incident afterward and was told Georgia didn't hire enough security to stop the onslaught of fans.

"Realizing the great emotions and passion that are stimulated during the heat of competition, I do not think it would be appropriate for me to respond to any post-game comments attributed to administrative officials of schools with whom we compete," Dooley wrote in his statement.

Georgia's public address announcer, David Johnston, made an announcement with one minute remaining in Tuesday's game reminding the crowd of the SEC policy that forbids fans on the court at any time. The announcement drew boos, and moments later, the fans streaked past security guards and police who were helpless to stop them.

"While we are all excited about the men's basketball team's great victories against two of our biggest basketball rivals, there are serious concerns regarding the students and fans storming the court in celebration," Dooley's statement read. "Those concerns must be addressed in the spirit of safety and sportsmanship."

There is little the league can do at this point to penalize Georgia for the fan behavior because there are no proscribed penalties for violation of the SEC policy, Bloom said. However, he added, that is likely to change in the wake of Tuesday's incident.

"I think it's a huge issue of this league," Foley said. "I think it's a huge issue nationally. Unless some people start taking it seriously, it's going to continue until someone gets hurts."

On October 7, 2000, a 19-year-old Georgia student was seriously injured when football fans stormed the the Sanford Stadium field after the Bulldogs' snapped a nine-game losing streak against Tennessee. Along with injuring Christine Yu, who made a full recovery, that incident caused more than $75,000 worth of damage.

"It doesn't happen here," Foley said. "It doesn't happen in football and it doesn't happen in basketball. We're not going to have people getting hurt here.

"This is not a Florida-Georgia issue. That is an unsafe environment. It is a problem at Georgia, but it's a problem lots of places."

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