It’s that time of year when pollen and new rule proposals for college sports weigh heavily in the air. As with many policy changes in college football, most are designed to move the game along so that a sport intended to last 60 minutes of playing time doesn’t turn into a 4-hour marathon. And this doesn’t even consider the amount of time one spends driving to the game, tailgating, tailgating again and then driving home.
The University of Arkansas, for one, should focus on simply getting fans inside the stadium in time for kickoff without having to leave the tailgating area an hour before gametime.
Those in charge also need to light a fire under the seat of the concession workers who many times just don’t seem to get that paying $17 for a Coke, hot dog and plastic container full of tortilla chips slathered with some cheese-like substance is not the main attraction of the day.
These inconveniences tend to keep people on their couches instead of pouring money into the coffers of the university in ticket sales, over-priced concessions and maybe even jerseys and ball caps.
No, you don’t get to smell the atmosphere, see old friends or feel like you’re part of a big win, but you can still see your team score a victory.
One thing you can’t do from the comfort of your own couch is – you guessed it – storm the field and tear down the goalposts. But that shouldn’t be a problem anymore if the SEC gets its way.
A New Proposal for SEC Football, Basketball
It appears that some in the SEC think that a $250,000 fine for a third offense of field rushing doesn’t go far enough and that universities just consider it to be the cost of doing business. Certainly, Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek did in 2021 when discussing a $100,000 fine in the aftermath of the Hogs so spectacularly crushing their burnt-orange nemesis on national TV.
Never mind that when field and court rushings happen, they are still considered enough of an anomaly that it’s shown on ESPN and the SEC Network for all the world to see for the next several days. It’s great advertising for college football and a gigantic endorsement for fun. I mean, remember last year when Tennessee snapped a 15-game losing streak to Alabama and what happened afterwards? Not to mention the aforementioned Arkansas pummeling of Texas? It was great TV and ESPN used it.
Since a six-digit fine hasn’t stopped people from sheer revelry after a huge win, the new policy proposal likely to be on the table at the SEC spring meetings, which take place May 30-June 2, can best be explained with a Razorback-centric example.
Let’s fast forward to 2024 because the Hogs don’t play anyone in Fayetteville that’s worthy of a field rush in 2023. However, in 2024, Alabama comes to Fayetteville. If lightning strikes three times in the same place, Big Red flies to Auburn, eats their war eagle and then drops the digested remains on Ole Miss fans in the Grove and we beat a Nick Saban-coached Alabama team, Hog fans WILL try to rush the field.
Under the proposed rule change, if that happens, the SEC will move the 2026 Arkansas/Alabama game from Fayetteville to Tuscaloosa. The result would be the Hogs playing three games in three years on the road against the game’s most dominant program of the past two decades.
A missed home game against a marquee opponent means a lot of lost ticket sales, concession revenue and overall impact on the Northwest Arkansas economy. Now, I’m no mathematician, but I’m pretty sure that will cost Razorback Nation far more than $250,000, not to mention by playing Alabama away, it will probably hurt the football team’s efforts to make it to an elite bowl game that year.
Why the Rule is Necessary
The question is, “Why do any of this?” The party line answer is “safety.” Surely, we can all agree that safety is paramount. Nobody wants to see anyone get hurt, especially in the aftermath of a win.
However, the real answer is that these events are lawsuits waiting to happen – against the university and the conference (deep pockets) – because of the possibility of injury.
Making a home game an away game may not be the best idea in the world, but I’ll admit that preventing fans from rushing the field is not the worst.
In most cases, these are innocent events where no one gets hurt and that everyone talks about for the rest of their lives. For sure that was the case when Arkansas knocked off then-No. 1 Auburn at Bud Walton Arena (the proposed rule also applies to court rushings, too). However, even the biggest party animal in college would have to agree that these are the kind of situations that could end badly just as easily as they can end without incident.
We’ll credit The Athletic’s Seth Emerson with bringing up potential dangers lurking in areas some have not considered, especially in a region where many of the states have recently loosened concealed handgun carry laws. Arkansas is one of the states that now allows for concealed carry without a permit.
However, guns are still prohibited at games and if you can’t take a selfie stick, video camera, noise maker, pets, inflatable toys or fly a drone inside the stadium, we should be able to keep guns out as well.
Tweaking the Rule
This is an extreme example, and it doesn’t take firearms for people to get hurt in a melee. There may be lots of ways to prevent field rushing, but first everyone has to agree with the premise that it should be prevented.
If everyone can agree with that, strong messaging may be the answer.
If a coach can implore fans to get to an 11 a.m. game and actually see tens of thousands follow through, or if we can encourage people to wear red or white in a certain section and they do it, the messaging during that week could be effective enough to stop it from happening. However, it will probably require the threat of losing a home game to get fans to truly understand why they shouldn’t do it.
If this is the direction they go, there will be an absolute need for an appeals process and winning that appeal should be based on the number of people who actually rush the field and the aggressiveness with which the messaging against it was undertaken during the week of the game.
All of this is unfortunate and no fun, but at the end of the day, stopping it from occurring is probably the right thing to do.
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