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Oklahoma State Promises Review After Student Injuries

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OKLAHOMA STATE
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TULSA, Okla. — Oklahoma State University officials said Monday they were considering everything from fines for lawbreakers to increased security staffing after thousands of fans poured onto the stadium field to celebrate the school's first football conference championship in three generations.

Twelve people were injured, including two initially listed in critical condition, after fans climbed over a 9-foot wall and pushed their way onto the playing surface following the Cowboys' 44-10 victory over in-state rival Oklahoma on Saturday. University spokesman Gary Shutt said Monday OSU had beefed up security for the contest to "more than 40 police officers and more than 40 medical personnel" but that extra measures are being considered for the next big game.

"People immediately are pointing the finger within 24 hours, and you want all of us to have it figured out," Shutt said. "We are going to look at what happened and see what we can do different. Are we going to put in a fine in place? Increase people? That's all part of what we're going to look at going forward."

Thunderous shouts from the bleachers could be heard as hundreds of students stormed the field after Oklahoma State won an outright conference title for the first time since 1946, when it won the three-team Missouri Valley Conference. They began to rock the goal posts from side to side, loosening them. One student screamed, "It's going down! It's going down!" seconds before the goal collapsed. A minute later, another student cried out, "There goes the other one!" as the second goal post was taken down by the raucous crowd.

Lou Marciani, director of the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security, saw the OSU-OU melee on TV and said universities planning for games that could quickly turn into a frenzy should take advantage of social media tools so they can get real-time updates on what's happening anywhere in the stadium. Marciani also said studying historical data of the field, such as whether it's hosted a championship or has a history of postgame celebrations, will assist first responders.

"There could have easily been deaths involved (in Oklahoma)," he said. "We lucked out here."

Oklahoma State, which according to NCAA statistics drew an average crowd of 50,812 people in 2010, has long been an also-ran in the Big 12 and its predecessor conferences, and the crowd was electrified for a contest that could have launched the Cowboys into the Bowl Championship Series' title game in New Orleans. Just two weeks ago, when unranked Iowa State upset the then-No. 2 Cowboys, Cyclones fans stormed the field at Ames, Iowa.

"Any time fans go onto the field, it's (sometimes) difficult to deal with," said Rob Bowers, the deputy police chief at Iowa State. "One day, one group may be more excited, and the next time, they may be a little different.

"It's a huge amount of luck," Bowers said.

Iowa State, where home crowds averaged 45,395 people in 2010, had 200 employees throughout its stadium to help with crowd control, from ticket-takers to emergency medical technicians, and has a 5 1/2 foot wall separating the stands from the field, Bowers said.

Louisiana State University, which the Cowboys wanted to play in the BCS championship game, uses 40 to 50 officers at its lower field level, plus another 100 officers around the stadium on game days, where crowds averaged 92,718 people in 2010, said Eddie Nunez, the school's senior associate athletic director. Its seats go all the way down to the playing surface – but benefits from a Southeastern Conference rule that imposes a financial penalty on schools that cannot control access to the fields.

"This is a disaster waiting to happen," said Chuck Dunlap, a spokesman for the SEC in Birmingham, Ala.

The SEC, known for its boisterous fans, has restricted access to playing fields and basketball courts since the mid-2000s after seeing a number of serious injuries to fans trampled in postgame celebrations. Schools are subject to fines as high as $50,000 per incident. Dunlap, citing conference Commissioner Mike Slive, said "the passion of SEC fans is our greatest strength and our greatest weakness."

Dunlap said Kentucky was fined after fans entered the field after the Wildcats' beat Tennessee last month for the first time in 26 years. Typically, he said, the fines occur at schools where big wins are out of the ordinary. Fans at big-name schools such as Alabama, Florida and LSU expect their teams to win, so generally don't find the need to tear down goal posts.

The SEC policy "is a strong deterrent, if you have enough security to keep the fans off the field," Dunlap said.

He said it appeared the security line at Oklahoma State was "kind of out-manned somewhat," but when interviewed wasn't aware of how many officers were on duty.

He said the 12 SEC schools operate under their own game management and security guidelines and that it would appear appropriate to add police and security officers for "bigger" games.

"At Bryant-Denny (Alabama's home field), the Alabama administration is not going to expect their fans to rush the field, but you have to have people in place just in case," Dunlap said.

At Oklahoma State, the crowd pulled down the goal posts, and in the 45 minutes or more it took police to restore order Saturday night, some fans were trampled as the crowd struggled to reach the exits.

"This is the best way I can describe it: We were tighter than sardines," said Jennifer Payne, a junior at OSU who rushed the field along with thousands of fans.

Payne described the chaos: the university police terribly outmanned; medical personnel who were too spread out over the field to do any immediate good; a total breakdown in communication between first responders and injured students.

"It was really claustrophobic," she said.