Originally created 11/28/02

Schools installing fan-proof posts for safety



COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The scene plays out at college stadiums nationwide - thousands of jubilant fans swarm the field and carry off the goal posts after a big win.

It's not all fun, though.

The melees are often dangerous and have caused serious injuries. So, about 20 schools have switched from aluminum goal posts to steel ones designed to withstand rowdy fans.

After Ohio State beat Michigan last Saturday in Columbus to secure a spot in a national championship game, fans ran onto the field but were unable to pull down the steel posts.

Stadium workers had greased the crossbar and police used pepper spray to try to keep fans at bay, but about 15 people still were able to get up on the crossbar.

"We put them in before the Notre Dame game in 1995 because there was a chance we'd win," said Don Patko, assistant athletic director for facilities at Ohio State. "We won and the fans rushed the field. We had some 20 people on the crossbar and they didn't even knock it out of square."

To try to get the posts down, fans climb on them and stand on the cross bar, rocking it until the aluminum gives way.

In October 2001, 21-year-old Ball State student Andrew Bourne was paralyzed after the goal posts snapped during fan celebration after a win over Toledo. A post fell on him, breaking his back.

His lawyer, Scott Montross, said Bourne was standing on the field with his back to the goal posts when they fell. Montross said Bourne now uses a wheelchair, but he has returned to classes at Ball State.

Ball State officials declined to comment on Bourne's case, citing pending litigation, but the school did install the steel goal posts. Bourne also declined comment.

Chicago-based Merchants Environmental Industries, which makes the goal posts, installed the first set at Northwestern in 1990. It says the posts aren't indestructible, but they can buy security an extra half-hour or so to get fans off the posts before they start to fall.

At $30,000, the steel posts cost up to six times as much as the aluminum ones.

"We had done a lot of mechanical contracting work at Northwestern and the athletic facilities director asked our company if we could come up with something that would hold up better," said Mark Nelson, superintendent at Merchants Environmental Industries. "It's not brain surgery. We designed a goal post out of steel, which won't snap like aluminum. It'll bend but you can't really break it."

The posts are set in a 6-foot steel sleeve that's embedded in a 5-foot concrete cube. It takes a crane to hoist the 1,800-pound posts into place.

The steel posts were installed at several other Big Ten schools and also at Notre Dame, Stanford and Arizona State.

Kansas State fans managed to damage their stadium's steel posts during the 2000 season after the Wildcats beat Nebraska for the second time in about 60 years, said Jeff Steele, assistant athletic director for event management.

"It took them about an hour and 15 minutes to get it down. They were rocking the crossbar, they took TV cables and threw them over the goal posts, they were looking for anything they could find to rope it."

Steele said even when the posts did begin to fall, they tipped slowly rather than snapping off as with aluminum. No one was injured.

Connecticut-based Gilman Gear makes about $1 million a year on aluminum posts for the NFL and many colleges.

Neil Gilman said his company has replaced eight sets this year after fans tore them down, and it might get more orders after celebrations last week at California, Utah, North Carolina State and Clemson.

"We had an all-time banner season in 2000, when we replaced 16 sets - we replaced two sets for South Carolina that year. We did 10 last year," Gilman said.

The company's goal posts are made to withstand wind and weather, not a mob of crazed fans, Gilman said. They have considered making the heavier steel posts, but Gilman said there is a limited market.