Students plan to rush field at football game, Pitt officials warn of consequences

By Marissa Meredyth

Nearly 2,000 people have signed up on Facebook to “Rush the field when (not if) we beat… Nearly 2,000 people have signed up on Facebook to “Rush the field when (not if) we beat Cincy.”

During last year’s Pitt-Cincinnati matchup, Cincinnati fans, confused by a four-second delay in the game, rushed the field in celebration before Pitt finished its final play. Students from East Carolina University rushed the field when they beat West Virginia University last year, and just this past October, Georgia Tech fans rushed the field after they beat Virginia Tech, tearing down a goal post as they went.

“I understand [Pitt] might be unhappy because its an NFL field, so another team needs to play there,” Pitt student Braden Slike, who created the Facebook event, said. “But other schools can rush the field when their teams win, and I feel that we can do the same.”

But officials said they’ll cite fans who rush Heinz Field tomorrow and also send Pitt students who do so to the University’s Judicial Board.

“The ticket for an athletic event permits the fan access to the public walkways and their assigned seats. It does not grant permission to enter the field or locker room area,” Pitt police Chief Tim Delaney said in an e-mail. “Violators could be cited for jumping onto the field.”

The official charges, Delaney said, could be for recklessly endangering another person or for disorderly conduct, which has a fine of up to $300 — though he said it’s difficult to predict what charges rushers would be subject to, since the situation involves many variables.

“Bottom line, stay off the field,” Delaney said.

He repeated that students would also be referred to the University’s Judicial Board, where they would be subject to the Student Code of Conduct.

“I just wanted to see if I could stir up a little school pride and draw some more attention to the Big East championship game,” Slike said.

Despite creating the event, Slike said he will not be attending the game himself because he has to work on a paper for school.

The code says, “Conduct off-campus may be subject to disciplinary action by the University if that conduct seriously threatens the health, welfare, or safety of the University community or any individual member thereof, or that conduct reflects upon the student’s character and fitness as a member of the student body.”

Student Conduct Officer Deborah Walker said in an e-mail that “having thousands of students push toward a railing and jump over a 10- to 15-foot wall certainly threatens the health, wellness and safety of those in attendance. People have been killed in stampedes at concerts and sporting events.

“Even if you could come up with a way to get the students on the field in an orderly fashion, you would not be able to control what happens on the field. There are legitimate safety issues for players and coaches from both teams, as well as people working the game in an official capacity if there were thousands of people on the field.”

Walker said the punishment for violating the Student Code of Conduct could range from fines and community service to suspension or expulsion. Students found guilty of a violation of the code, she said, “could see it remain on their permanent record, and that could affect job prospects in the future … Student conduct records are kept on file for seven years.”

Walker said the University plans to inform students of this by playing an announcement at the game, displaying messages on Heinz Field’s JumboTron and posting flyers across campus and on the buses driving students to Heinz Field tomorrow. The University also purchased an ad in today’s Gameday Extra edition of The Pitt News, which will also be distributed to students on Saturday, to promote responsible celebration.

Walker also posted on the event’s Facebook page, “University students that are cited by the City and/or University police are subject to sanctions that may include fines, disciplinary probation, disciplinary suspension or disciplinary dismissal.”

Slike said he saw Walker’s message, but thinks that Pitt isn’t giving students enough credit.

“I know Pitt students have a history of being destructive while celebrating. When I created the event, I tried to make it be known that it should be a peaceful, nondestructive celebration,” he said.

Slike said he’d want students to understand the risks of storming the field,

“But if they still wanted to participate, that’s completely on them,” he said.

Students are also subject to Heinz Field’s Code of Conduct, which makes no specific reference to rushing the field. It does say that fans who are disruptive, break the law, interfere with the progress of the game or fail to follow instruction of stadium personnel “will be subject to ejection without refund and loss of ticket privileges for future games.”

The Big East has no specific policy on field rushing — although the organization doesn’t encourage it, Chuck Sullivan, Big East spokesman, said.

When Cincinnati students rushed the field in Nippert Stadium prematurely last year, the conference didn’t issue any penalties. Sullivan said the a referee may assess penalties at his discretion if crowd control is not maintained during the game.

He said the home team is responsible for crowd control and game management.

“Although we certainly don’t condone people being on the field who don’t belong there, we understand that, at times, a safer alternative is to simply let the crowd gather on the field momentarily before ushering them away,” Sullivan said.

Delaney said he’s working with Pitt’s athletic department, the Division of Student Affairs and Heinz Field security to design a security plan for use before, during and after the game.

“We expect an exciting victory, with the students celebrating in a responsible manor,” he said. “It is imperative that the fans remain in their seats and avoid entering the field for several reasons; the post-game ceremony, fan and player safety, and potential damage to the playing surface could have an effect on Sunday’s Steelers game.”

Delaney declined to say how many extra officers will patrol Saturday, citing security reasons.

“We always prepare for the worst case situation,” he said. “In this instance, we are concentrating on two locations, North Side and Oakland. We are working with the City of Pittsburgh Fire Department, as well as their police department, to ensure the celebration will be safe and without criminal incidents (property damage and physical injuries).”

But many students are still discussing plans to rush the field. Some think that if enough students participate, the simple math of outnumbering the security present at the game will make it difficult to successfully stop the rush.

Pitt freshman Jordan Sirianni thought students could use the band as a distraction. “Loop hole: The band runs down on the field first. At the least, it would create a diversion,” he posted on the event’s page.

Pitt band director Jack Anderson said that the band has never once rushed the field, nor does it have any plans to Saturday.

“This is a very bad idea,” he said.

During 1982’s infamous Stanford vs. The University of California game, the Stanford band preemptively rushed the field, interrupting the final play. Cal players trampled the band to score the winning touchdown.

Other students doubted whether the University would do anything, even if it could catch students and other fans rushing the field.

“I personally know Mark Nordenberg and [Athletic Director Steve] Pedersen will call for ZERO action as long as students are respectful when rushing the field and don’t do any damage,” Pitt student Daniel Pierre posted on the event page.

Pitt spokesman John Fedele said, “I do not want to dignify that student’s post with a response.”

Sophomore Mike Zimmerman said he doubted the event would turn into much.

“I don’t think anyone is going to be destructive, that would just be stupid,” he posted. “Then again … Forbes Ave Bus Stop ‘09. Enough said.”

At 11:18 p.m. last night, Slike wrote a message on the wall of the Facebook event, warning group members to be aware of punishment and discouraging them from rushing the field.

“I have only recently become completely aware of the consequences, and do not wish for any of you to be punished in any way,” he said.