OPINION | Storming the field: Fun for fans, a safety nightmare for everyone else
By WVUA 23 Digital Reporter Sam Thornton
TUSCALOOSA-The flooding sea of college students that creates a storming of the field is the perfect image of two sides; the ultimate thrill of victory and pure agony of defeat.
As a sports fan my entire life, I’ve always been an advocate for fans storming the field after an upset victory that will live in their minds forever. It’s great for the spirit and love for sports, and it’s bar none a direct correlation to what sports and the respective university means to the fans involved.
Recently, that viewpoint has changed. Not because a team I admire and cover has been the victim of recent artistic storming, but because of every players safety involved on the side of defeat.
Alabama football players and staff were without question, at risk this season following losses to Tennessee and LSU on the road where major field storming commenced. After Tennessee fans tore down their own goalposts snapping a long endured losing streak to the Crimson Tide, some fans were seen getting too close to players who were emotionally disturbed from the loss.
One incident involved Alabama receiver Jermaine Burton who seemed to hit a Tennessee student as he was making his way to the locker room. Another episode saw LSU fans aggressively gesturing Alabama’s assistant director of player development Evan Van Nostrand as he left the field.
Revamped in 2015 by the SEC, the fines of field storming begins with $50,000 for a single occurrence and leads to fines up to $250,000 for each storming after a second incident happens. Although fines have established a sense of responsibility after monumental wins, they won’t permanently halt them.
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey expressed the issue in April before it was discussed during this weeks SEC conference meeting in Destin, Florida.
“I don’t think just passing a rule can stop it. People have to stop it. Has the fine system changed behavior? Yes. Can you stop it? Sure. You can send teams into the stands to celebrate with fans. We see that in basketball pretty frequentley. You can educate your fans: Stay off the floor, we’re going to come to you and let’s celebrate that way,” Sankey told Sports Illustrated.
Alabama Athletics Director Greg Byrne has been one of the leaders among the conference to press the issue of safety for players, and what steps the SEC can take for alternative solutions.
“Fines don’t work. Nobody is sitting in the stands saying ‘well, I’m not going on the field today because the university is going to get fined $250,000’,” Byrne told AL.com.
Well, he’s right. As a recently graduated college student, that’s exactly what runs through your mind, nearly similar to Alabama students continuing to scream the expletives of Bryant-Denny Stadium tradition “Dixieland Delight.”
Rival fans would counter Byrne’s remarks and suggest this is only an issue now because Alabama experienced it twice within a three-week span last season. But other coaches in the conference know it’s not about presumed pettiness; the trouble lies with safety for everyone involved.
“I think the dialogue around keeping fans and players and staff safe is a real one. I think we have to navigate that space. I think there’s a two edged sword on that side of it,” Tennessee football head coach Josh Heupel told AL.com.
If safety concerns are known among important figures in the conference, what comes next? If fines don’t work or if remedies like teams losing home games and bowl eligibility aren’t fair to implement, how can the conference move forward?
The truth is fans would hate a less chaotic celebration, such as players heading into the stands instead of fans storming the field. There isn’t an “I was there” thrill involved, and viewers from home can’t sit back and chuckle about the scene.
Field storming should remain, but with significant alterations among security. The visiting team must have time to get off the field before fans shoot out of the stands. But would schools around the SEC be willing to increase security budgets so that can happen?
Perhaps athletics directors can begin a new tradition as games end, like a song serving as an intermission before fans can rush the field.
Clemson somehow seems to keep everyone safe after every home victory when students “rush the paw” at center field and meet the team, so the SEC can figure out a solution that works for everyone.
One thing is certain: While field storming is a great tradition, player and fan safety outweighs any tradition. It would be a shame to see it thrown out altogether, but compromise is possible.