Missouri athletic director discusses fan behavior

In light of last night's chaos at West Virginia and what happened after Missouri's win against Nebraska, MU Athletic Director Mike Alden released this column on fan behavior.

Missouri's recent 41-24 win over a previously unbeaten Nebraska football team produced some undeniably magical moments at Faurot Field. A sold out crowd of 68,349 made a tremendous impact with their vocal support of the Tigers. What took place afterwards though was unfortunate, and has become a sad commentary on fan behavior and how it relates specifically to collegiate sports.

As the final seconds ticked away, students and other fans began their descent from their seats toward the playing field. Within seconds after the game had ended, thousands of people rushed the playing field and proceeded to begin their assault on both sets of goal posts. This is a destructive and dangerous action that has become all too common in college sports. It seems like each weekend you can turn on your favorite all-sports channel and watch the highlights of some team pulling off a big win, and see their fans responding in a similar fashion. This phenomenon is something that has to be dealt with and eventually stopped.

Celebrations like these not only show a lack of sportsmanship but also can result in serious injuries. At least four fans were injured at Faurot Field in the celebration following the Nebraska game. One fan suffered a broken leg, another a severe laceration on his wrist from the goal posts. Those pale, however, in comparison to what others have suffered. Several years ago at Georgia, after a big win over Tennessee, a young student was trampled, and almost died. In 1983 at Yale, a Harvard student was hit the back of the head when the goal post snapped and she suffered a fractured skull, damaging her brain and cerebellum. Just this year, after a big upset win by Toledo, a young man was seriously injured in the melee that ensued on the field, and by all news accounts, his life was in serious danger afterward.

These celebrations have also resulted in destructive behavior away from the stadium. After last year's Ohio State-Michigan game in Columbus, Ohio, police in riot gear were sent downtown to contain a celebration that turned into a chain reaction of destructive and criminal behavior. One fire was so large it closed a major street. Similarly, campus areas surrounding the universities of Maryland and Indiana were damaged after those two teams played for college basketball's national title at the Final Four in recent years. Fires were set, cars were overturned and burned, and windows were broken.

This is an epidemic of national proportion. Georgia Athletic Director Vince Dooley recently said on my weekly radio show "We've declared war on it, but it's going to be a long battle." Mike Slive, chair of NCAA Football and the Commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, told a group assembled at a recent Sportsmanship Summit in Dallas, Texas "It is time to address these issues that negate the positive strides that we have made over the years to be hospitable hosts to visiting teams and to uphold the long-standing principle of winning with dignity."

The casual fan will say that our objections to fans rushing the field and tearing down goal posts is purely a cost containment issue on our end. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. This is a simple matter of safety for our team, the visiting team, fans and everyone associated with the administration of the game. My biggest fear is to one day have to sit down with the mother and father of a young man or woman and explain to them how it came to be that their child has been permanently injured all because of a post-game celebration that went astray.

At Missouri, it is University Policy to arrest every individual who comes onto the playing field in these post-game celebrations. Leaving the stands and entering the field is trespassing, and fans have no business being there. It is a dangerous place, particularly when you add several thousand potentially inebriated fans to the mix of two college football teams that have just battled each other for three hours. The results are never good!

It is very unfortunate that a Nebraska football player allegedly punched a young Missouri fan following the game on Oct. 11th. No matter what your opinion is of the action taken by Nebraska's player, it is undeniable that the situation could have been completely avoided if our fans would have shown a true measure of sportsmanship by staying off the playing field and in the stands.

I recognize that this is a fine line we're toeing, because we encourage our fans to be raucous and loud and create an intimidating environment for visiting teams to have to deal with. And I believe that we have great fans at Missouri. I would venture that there is no other school in America that can draw more than 68,000 fans to watch a football game against a team it hasn't beaten in 25 years, let alone average more than 55,000 people per game for a program that has produced just two winning seasons in the last 20 years. But the passion that exists for football in our state has to be balanced with a firm recognition that while we need our fans to be enthusiastic in situations like our win over Nebraska, it is also incumbent upon them to represent the University in a responsible sportsmanlike and safe fashion.

Ultimately, the best way to prevent this sort of undesirable behavior is to win on a consistent basis. By doing so, fans will be so used to the Tigers prevailing that we won't have to wait 25 years between victories over any opponent. Under Head Coach Gary Pinkel's leadership, I have complete confidence that our program is heading exactly in that direction, and in the future, wins over top-10 teams won't be such a big deal. A wise man once instructed his players that when they scored a touchdown, that they needed to ‘act like you've been there before.' I look forward to the day that everyone who cheers for Mizzou will react this way to big wins in any sport in which we compete.

As always, I would like to thank you for taking time to read this column. If you have any questions or comments about this topic, or anything relating to Tiger Athletics or college sports in general, please feel free to contact me by e-mail at aldenm@missouri.edu.

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