Pollard talks risks and rewards of rushing the field

The theme (managing risks) seemed pretty typical for a supply chain conference. The luncheon speaker (athletics director Jamie Pollard) was a little less on the nose, though his speech ("Rushing the Field: The Risk and the Reward") was aptly framed.

In a 30-minute presentation at the 27th annual Voorhees Supply Chain Conference, hosted at the Sukup End Zone Club April 24 by the Ivy College of Business, Pollard discussed how he weighs postgame celebrations of momentous Cyclone wins that prompt fans to flock onto Jack Trice Stadium's field or Hilton Coliseum's court. He outlined some changes planned to ensure field-rushing remains safe for players, officials, staff and fans.

Impromptu on-field revelry at Jack Trice Stadium drew wide attention last fall, when the Cyclones beat then-No. 6 West Virginia 30-14. After complaints from West Virginia's coach, the Big 12 Conference fined Iowa State $25,000, claiming it failed to keep the visiting team safe, though no one was injured. Iowa State appealed the conference's decision and lost, despite videos showing law enforcement quickly escorting West Virginia players off the field.

Pollard emphasized that celebration was handled safely, using the same procedures as field rushes following wins against TCU (2017) and Oklahoma State (2011) that didn't draw fines. But the incident raised a question about field-rushing that has no "cookie-cutter answer," he said: "What's the risk-benefit?"

While allowing fans to storm the field presents safety risks, so does digging in heels to prevent them, Pollard said. The 1993 postgame celebration at the University of Wisconsin that injured 69 people showed the dangers of trying to stop an exuberant crowd from pushing its way on to the field. Allowing fans access is safer, he said.

"We certainly don't want to encourage it, but most law enforcement and safety/EMS people would say you've got to let that surge out," he said.

Though some have advocated a strict ban on entering the playing surface after a game, that doesn't prevent it. Property damage and fines are both risks, but national recognition and a special atmosphere that creates lasting memories are both big rewards, he said. Older fans in particular rave to Pollard about the fun of field-rushing, he said.

"I had people send me pictures," he said. "'I took my grandson down on the field and we got a blade of grass and now he's going to pass it on to the next generation. He's going to do that with his grandson, and I did it with my dad.' OK, that's awesome."

Still, additional safety measures are likely, Pollard said.

"There are some things we just need to do to continue to tweak the process to try to mitigate the risk," he said.

Field passes for football games will be tightened in the future to limit the sheer number of people on the field level, Pollard said.

The athletics department also is working with police on a plan to allow fans to exit the stands toward the field level when a storming celebration is coming but temporarily delay them from coming on the field, Pollard said. That would relieve pressure building in the crowd but give opponents more time to exit before fans swarm the playing surface.

"We let it dribble out and create a secondary barrier so you get them out of there so no one is getting squished in their seats, but they're not on the field yet and you're kind of funneling them," he said.

And stadium security staff will continue to communicate directly with fans in situations where field-rushing is imminent, as they did in the waning minutes of the West Virginia game, Pollard said. Before the game ended, security staff urged fans in the first 15 rows of the student section to take the stairs to the field instead of vaulting the walls and to leave players alone.

"It works," he said. "We need to do more of that education."