Following USF’s 45-14 win over Louisville on Sept. 24, nearly two dozen fans rushed the field at Raymond James Stadium. Afterward, debate spawned whether security personnel acted too harshly in apprehending the fans.
Of the fans who ran on the field, some were escorted out of the stadium and seven were arrested, according to The Tampa Tribune. At least one student was subdued with a Taser, according to Tampa Sports Authority Director of Operations Mickey Farrel.
Student body President Maxon Victor, who was at the game, said he was shocked how police and security handled the situation.
“I think they acted aggressively,” he said. “I think that (police and security) ought to work on better communication between themselves because we as the students suffered for it. We heard from police officers and security that it was OK to rush, just stay away from the poles.”
According to USF Associate Athletic Director Tom Veit, who said his department received several e-mails and phone calls regarding the incident, students at the game were never told they were not allowed to rush the field.
Some students, according to the Tribune, complained of excessive force by officers and guards, but as of press time no direct eyewitness reports or complaints by those involved had been filed.
“I certainly saw a number of people not just jump and stand there and say ‘Hey, I just fell,'” Farrel said. “A number of them went forward and went toward the goal posts, and those people were dealt with. The police used the means they felt were necessary at that particular point.”
In response, members of the TSA and USF Athletic Department met with the Florida Highway Patrol, Hillsborough County Sheriff, Tampa Police and TSA security on Tuesday to reiterate that students and fans will not be allowed to run on the field under any circumstance, a long standing policy of the TSA.
“We are going to rely on the University to get the word out to the students again,” Farrel said.
He also said the primary reason for the policy was safety, and he cited an incident after the game in which an individual broke an ankle while attempting the eight-foot jump down onto the field.
Confrontation from the opposing team and the possibility that students could tear down a goal post are also concerns, he said.
According to an article from the Tribune, 22 people have died from falling goal posts.
Victor said there were mixed messages during the game.
“This was verified from several students who were told they could rush the field, but (were told) don’t bring down the (field goal) pole,” he said.
Alec Smith, president of the Beef Studs, a group of students who exercise their school spirit by painting themselves green and gold, was one of those students.
“I, myself, have rushed the field in previous games,” he said during a televised discussion on FOX 13 Friday. “We were under the impression from some of the police officers that were working down on the field that we were allowed to rush the field as long as we were not going near the goal posts. We were even making announcements to the students ‘You’re allowed to go down on the field as long as you don’t rush the goal posts.'”
Farrel said out of the numerous warning signs, as well as the officers and security guards on the field, he had a hard time believing anyone felt entitled to go down on the field.
“I don’t know how someone would have been led to believe that they were allowed on the field,” he said. “With the signage in place, the police and security lined up, and there was verbal communication going back and forth to the students.”
But Victor said it was expected for students to run out on the field after the game.
“It was expected, even from folks in the Athletic Department. From my understanding, students were told by security, ‘Just don’t rush the (field goal) pole,'” Victor said.
Victor said he will meet with a representative from the Athletic Department later in the week to discuss the matter.
So far, more announcements will be made in preparation for the Bulls’ next home game against West Virginia on Oct. 22, Viet said.
Procedures will be reiterated to security and police before the next home game, Viet said. In addition, he said, students can expect to hear increased warnings and communication prohibiting field rushing.
“We want to make sure all the students know all the rules, so we’re working on a P.A. announcement and then handouts and flyers to fans reiterating what the rules are, and we’ll do that on the Jumbotron as well as the P.A. announcement,” Viet said.
Also, the Athletic Department is planning on a safer alternative to rushing the field, he said.
“(The players) are going to come over to the front of the student section and salute the students. They are going to be able to slap high fives, jump up and down, cheer and be part of it (the celebration),” Viet said.
Victor expressed disappointment at this notion.
“The truth is, students want to rush the field,” Victor said. “It’s a common thing you do in the spirit and excitement of the game.”