The TNT was able to talk with Washington State athletic director Bill Moos and Oregon AD Rob Mullens about safety when it comes to storming the field after football games. Austin Seferian-Jenkins being struck when walking off the field during the Apple Cup is what prompted the discussion. Here’s the story for the paper.
Moos has been involved in Pac-12 (10) football forever. He played in three Apple Cups. He was the AD at Oregon from 1995-2007 before taking over at WSU in 2010.
Here’s what he said when asked for his thoughts on Seferian-Jenkins being hit:
“There’s no place for that kind of behavior in college athletics. I feel bad about that. Having said that, it’s not uncommon anymore. We try to control those things, try to control the students, try to control the fans. We’ve seen it at a number of venues and there’s been some real tragedies. I can remember a while back at Wisconsin when there were fences up to keep students from charging the field, the fence gave in an broke and people were injured that way.
“It’s a concern. I appreciate our fans, especially the students’ excitement about our Apple Cup victory, but there is a line there I really don’t believe should be crossed. One person made it a bad scene for what looked like thousands down there. Hopefully, that won’t happen again.”
Wisconsin is an interesting example in all this. In 2010, students at Wisconsin told local police and the school they were planning to rush the field if the Badgers upset top-ranked Ohio State. They did and they did. It was a touchy subject because because when fans there rushed the field in 1993, “Sixty-nine people were taken to hospitals, and at least three were critically injured.” That prompted changes. Wisconsin stopped selling the top row of seats in the student section and filled it with cops. They also planned a specific design in a recent stadium renovation that was intended to open things up in the student section to help avoid trampling. The stadium even has a 6-foot high fence, but that’s not served as a deterrent.
Moos tells a story about the 1998 Civil War when he was the AD at Oregon and OSU fans ended up ripping up the turf after they thought the Beavers had won the game after the first overtime. Oregon State had publicized that it was going to change the field over after the game, so fans wanted a souvenir. But, there was a pass interference flag, and everyone was shoved back into the stands, chunks of turf in hand.
Mullens has his own stories of craziness or mild injuries from rushing the field that he’s seen. We know Washington once used mace to stop fans on the field during an Apple Cup. Now, we have video of Seferian-Jenkins being hit.
But, don’t expect anything to change. Though it seems inconceivable that fans would rush the field in the NFL, colleges don’t seem prepared or willing to take the measure to make sure it stops. Maybe it’s not necessary.
Here’s more from Moos, who said WSU will give a full review as it does in any circumstance:
“We will breakdown the entire season. We always do at the conclusion and certainly this will be discussed, ways that we can address it. It’s hard to control, especially when there’s such close proximity of the fans to the playing field. Unfortunately, Washington is going to experience this as well now that the track is no longer there.
“Part of it is a culture change, too. I hope our program, certainly the plan is that our program gets to the point where, not to diminish the Apple Cup because it’s very important and a victory in that is savored, but it’s more expected than not. Certainly we plan to move in that direction.
“The pure numbers, the numbers will overwhelm any security. Then you say, well, even the playing the field, then that’s when you have a situation like a mace incident in Husky Stadium.”
Mullens said Oregon traveled to one Pac-12 school this season, which he would not name, and a pack of fans behind the Oregon bench didn’t watch the game. They just screamed obscenities at the Ducks the whole time.
“The reality is this: fan civility is a concern across the board, not just rushing the field at the end of the game,” Mullens said. “In sports in general whether it’s professional or college, how people are carrying themselves is something we all need to be paying attention to.
“I’ve been at other institutions where you’d have some breakthrough success and people want to take the field. Quite frankly, I’ve never understood it because they run on to the field then it’s, they get to the field and they’re not quite sure what to do there. There can be some safety issues not only for players, for staff but (also) the people running onto the field.”
I asked Mullens, who said he feels his team is safe at every Pac-12 stadium, why colleges allow fans to rush the field.
“Allow it is kind of strong. You also don’t want to have a police state on your field, so I think you do everything you can to create as safe an environment as possible. Some would argue there’s safety (issue) the other way. It’s all very difficult, it all happens very fast and you just do everything you can to be prepared to make it as safe as possible for everybody.
“You also want it safe for the fans. Even when some of them aren’t worried about their own safety. It’s impossible for the home venue to try to predict every single scenario.”
Moos says he has a picture taken by his dad of himself and longtime friend Tony Apostle after an Apple Cup game. Apostle played for the Huskies, Moos for the Cougars. They shook hands and hugged after the game. Each has the framed photo in their home 40 years later. Moos is disappointed there was no chance for this year’s group — despite the rivalry, each team has friends on the other side — to have such a moment.
The question for me is this: Why isn’t there a standard, well-explained, well-understood protocol for every game to separate visiting players exiting the field from fans? If universities can’t keep fans off the field, the least they can do is have a definitive exit strategy, sort of like an evacuation plan, for visiting players that keeps them away from fans. Randomness and hope, as we’ve seen, are not effective ways to keep incidents from happening.
We reached out to Washington athletic director Scott Woodward, but he was not available for comment. A school spokesperson said they take safety very seriously.