When the Iowa State University football team defeated West Virginia last season, it cost the visiting Mountaineers their No. 6 ranking. It also cost Iowa State $25,000.
That's because Cyclone fans stormed the Jack Trice Stadium field in sufficient numbers to prompt West Virginia to file a complaint with the Big 12 Conference, claiming its players' safety was jeopardized. Despite video showing law enforcement quickly escorting from the field the WVU players, none of whom were injured in the post-game celebration, Iowa State lost its appeal.
The incident inspired ISU athletic director Jamie Pollard to to make a 30-minute presentation last week titled "Rushing the Field: The Risk and the Reward." As the featured speaker at a luncheon during the 27th annual Voorhees Supply Chain Conference, Pollard outlined some changes planned to ensure field-rushing remains safe for players, officials, staff and fans, as reported by ISU's university relations department.
"I had people send me pictures," Pollard said, pointing out the upside of such impromptu celebrations. " 'I took my grandson down on the field and we got a blade of grass and now he's going to pass it on to the next generation. He's going to do that with his grandson, and I did it with my dad.' OK, that's awesome."
Though stopping short of encouraging the practice, Pollard said that law enforcement and EMT personnel favor allowing fan surges to release, or else they can get very dangerous.
"There are some things we just need to do to continue to tweak the process to try to mitigate the risk," Pollard said.
Field passes for football games will be tightened in the future to limit the sheer number of people on the field level. The athletics department also is working with police on a plan to allow fans to exit the stands toward the field level when a storming celebration is coming but temporarily delay them from coming on the field, Pollard said. That would relieve pressure building in the crowd but give opponents more time to exit before fans swarm the playing surface. "We let it dribble out and create a secondary barrier so you get them out of there so no one is getting squished in their seats, but they're not on the field yet and you're kind of funneling them," Pollard said.
Moreover, stadium security staff will continue to communicate directly with fans in situations where field-rushing is imminent, as they did in the waning minutes of the West Virginia game. Before the game ended, security staff urged fans in the first 15 rows of the student section to take the stairs to the field instead of vaulting the walls, as well as to leave players alone.
"It works," Pollard said. "We need to do more of that education."
The Big 12 isn't the only conference cracking down on field storming. Last September, the University of Kentucky was fined $100,000 by the Southeastern Conference in accordance with the league's "access to competition area policy" after fans rushed the field to celebrate the Wildcats' win over Mississippi State.
"The Conference has unanimously approved a policy requiring fines be applied when spectators enter the playing field after a game," said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey in a statement, as reported by CBS Sports. "Fans are expected to remain in the stands and avoid the safety concerns associated with rushing on to the playing field. We want exciting experiences around SEC games, but also seek to maintain a safe environment for student-athletes, coaches, spectators and officials."
The fine in Kentucky's case was dictated by the fact it was the school's second offense.