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Fans on the field? Forfeit your win

Published Nov. 30, 2002|Updated Sep. 4, 2005

In times like this, we should all be grateful.

Grateful for pepper spray. For snarling dogs. And, heaven help us, we should be grateful for police officers in bad moods.

This is offered not in jest, but in fear. Fear of what we already have witnessed on college football fields and, worse, what we have yet to see.

Riots disguised as celebrations have scooted past silly and skipped beyond bothersome. They are stupid, dangerous and disasters-in-waiting.

Which means the time for the NCAA to act is long overdue.

This is an organization that was quick to hound a University of Miami offensive lineman for a harmless dinner wager with a radio personality but has remained stoic and mum while police are trampled, property is destroyed and sensibility is crushed in stadiums across the nation.

What, you may ask, can the NCAA do to stop this?

How can bureaucrats slow the drunken thousands?

By hitting fans where they care the most: on the scoreboard.

Do you suppose it might have an impact if the NCAA announced sanctions for teams with out-of-control fans? Loss of scholarships? Bowl bans? Maybe even an automatic forfeit of the game supposedly being feted?

The NCAA need levy such a penalty one time and, you better believe, the rest of the nation would take notice. Ban a team from a possible national championship game and I have a sneaking suspicion it would never happen again.

As a solution, this one is far from perfect. It is not fair to the majority of well-behaved fans in stadiums and at home. It certainly is not fair to the players and coaches who will be unjustly impacted.

But, if you have been paying attention, you should understand it would be a dramatic response to a drastic problem.

The issue is not the cost of a few broken goal posts, but the potential loss of life. And, regrettably, that is not overstating the situation.

Consider this parade of destruction:

A sheriff's deputy was unconscious for several hours after being run over by Clemson fans following a comeback victory against South Carolina. He had broken ribs, a broken collarbone and the imprint of a heel on his forehead.

A reporter in Pullman, Wash., was treated for a concussion after being hit in the head with a bottle following Washington's triple-overtime victory against Washington State. Huskies athletic director Barbara Hedges said she feared for her life while trying to escape the crowd.

After the goal posts came down at Ohio State, fans carried the celebration into the streets of Columbus, where police reported more than 100 street fires and 20 overturned vehicles.

One fan left with a broken leg and two others had knee injuries after North Carolina State's victory against Florida State.

Honolulu police used pepper spray to disperse a mob and break up fights on the field after Hawaii beat Cincinnati.

Five games in five states across multiple time zones. And all were played within hours of each other Saturday. Still think it's an isolated problem?

There will be some who blame overzealous security. Those who will argue police could defuse the situation by letting fans have their fun.

Those people would be misguided.

When did lawlessness become a right? We're not talking about a march for civil rights or an anti-war demonstration. We're not talking about people taking to the streets for social change. These are football games. Exciting, entertaining, but ultimately meaningless, football games.

How many times can a steel goal post fall into a crowd before it crushes a skull? A year ago, a Ball State student was paralyzed in a goal-post incident.

The other problem is, for every nine fans who are just happy to whoop it up on the field, there is one idiot looking for trouble.

I stood just outside the end zone in Raleigh, N.C., on Saturday and watched one fan after another run screaming into the path of FSU players. It was an enlightening display of stupidity. These fans were actually taunting 270-pound young men who, essentially, are outfitted in armor.

One fan dancing in front of an FSU lineman was knocked to the ground by a police officer, and I couldn't help but think the cop did the fool a favor before the player could get to him.

It made me wonder about the Miami of Ohio assistant coach who was arrested a few weeks ago after shoving a fan during an on-field confrontation. What is a coach or player supposed to do when approached by a screaming fan from another school in a chaotic situation? Pray the guy isn't dangerous?

The NCAA leaves stadium security in the hands of individual schools. For a program such as Florida, that might be fine.

UF will spend up to $100,000 a game to keep Florida Field safe. More than 200 armed law enforcement officers and dogs and another 200 unarmed security guards can be nice deterrents.

But not every school can afford an imposing show of force and, thus, the NCAA needs to get involved.

Saying pretty please does not work. Texas Tech announced a zero-tolerance policy regarding fans on the field. Two days later, goal posts came down.

Threatening expulsion or arrest does not work. When 4,000 people flood a field and 40 arrests are made, the culprits seem to understand the odds are in their favor.

From the NCAA's standpoint, there is one threat fans will fear. That is wins. Or rather losses.

That is the one thing fans care about.

Apparently, too much.

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