SEATTLE — Dejected by the Apple Cup loss, Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins trudged off the Martin Stadium field, his helmet in his left hand.
Seferian-Jenkins had a long walk to the players’ tunnel on the opposite side of the stadium. To get there, he would have to wade through thousands of exuberant fans streaming onto the field from the Cougars’ student section.
During that walk Seferian-Jenkins was struck and decked by a fan. The incident was caught on video and again raises questions about overall safety when fans rush the field.
Washington State athletic director Bill Moos told The Olympian his first reaction when seeing the crowd rush the field was joy. The Cougars had just completed the largest comeback in the rivalry’s 105-year history at the end of a downtrodden season. His second was that he hoped there would be no altercations. There was at least one, and he’s irritated by it.
“There’s no place for that kind of behavior in college athletics,” Moos said. “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.”
As do most schools, but it’s a daunting task.
There appears to be no immediate remedy or push from Pacific-12 Conference members to stop fans from rushing the field. The onslaught can lead to dust-ups with players and injuries to fans or people working at the game. Even equipment can be looted.
Moos said Washington State security was focused during the Apple Cup on the east end zone, which was where the overtime was played, in case the Huskies won and the Apple Cup Trophy was presented there. The school had consciously added security in that area to keep fans separated from the trophy presentation.
Yet, as fans sit closer and closer to the field – Husky fans will be closer than ever next year when Husky Stadium reopens without the track around the field – the ability to stop them from rushing out of the stands decreases.
Past attempts at deterrents have not worked. After the 1989 Apple Cup in Husky Stadium, police used mace to crack down on postgame revelry. Outrage followed.
“You 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,” Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens said. “It’s impossible for the home venue to try to predict every single scenario.”
At Wisconsin, a 6-foot high fence has not stopped fans from rushing the field.
“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.
When Moos was athletic director at Oregon (1995-2007), the 1998 Civil War in Corvallis produced the craziest scene he had witnessed. At the end of the first overtime, Oregon State had appeared to win when an Oregon pass was incomplete. Fans rushed the field, and, knowing that the artificial turf was going to be replaced in the offseason, began to rip up portions of the field as souvenirs. But, pass interference had been called and the fans were re-stuffed into the stands.
The game went into a second overtime with a portion of the turf torn up.
“There was no choice which side of the field you were going to play on,” Moos said.
Moos lamented one other personal angle. He played in three Apple Cups for the Cougars, and still has a picture his dad took of him and good friend Tony Apostle, who played for the Huskies, on the field after an Apple Cup. When mayhem on the field follows a game, such a memory-making opportunity is lost.
So, schools are left with safety concerns and little to combat fans streaming onto the field. Even though it’s difficult to picture such an occurrence at an NFL game, rushing the field has become commonplace in college.
“We don’t have a big enough jail in Whitman County to hold three or four thousand people,” Moos said with a laugh. “Again, you just hope individually that they can conduct themselves.”
Washington athletic director Scott Woodward was not available for comment. A Washington spokesperson assured it takes safety at football games seriously. email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @Todd_Dybas