CLEMSON, S.C. -- Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips says the school will have a plan in place at Death Valley to keep its past traditions and ensure the safety of those attending football games this fall.
Phillips says a task force has met since February and come up with guidelines to avoid a repeat of what happened following last year's Clemson-South Carolina game at Memorial Stadium. Anderson County reserve deputy Homer Booth and a female Clemson student were injured when fans rushed the field following the Tigers 27-20 win and toppled the goal post.
Phillips wanted to present the rules to Clemson trustees before discussing them publicly. He hoped to let all fans know by Aug. 1.
"We think it's a plan that will let people do what they've done, have families on the field to mix after the game, but also to increase security," Phillips said Wednesday.
Things were not so safe last fall at Clemson or elsewhere in college football. Several on-field, post-game incidents at places like Berkeley, Calif., Raleigh, N.C., and Columbus, Ohio, focused attention on protecting people and players from celebrating fans gone amok.
A week before the South Carolina game, Clemson officials barred fans from the field for the Maryland game. However, the end of the longtime tradition rankled some fans and forced the athletic department to reverse itself.
At the end of the South Carolina game, fans filled the field to tear down a goal post. Booth was caught at the bottom of a pile and broke his collarbone and some ribs; the female student had a mild concussion, the school said.
Nearly seven months after the injuries, Booth says his right arm feels like dead weight sometimes because of the collarbone injury. However, he still wants to work Clemson games this season. "I guess I'm just one of the crazy ones," he said.
Anderson County Sheriff Gene Taylor said last fall he would pull his officers from game security unless changes were made. He's waiting on Clemson's report and hopes they address three critical areas.
Taylor says the school officials should get "new-style goal posts that can't be torn down, they need to address the public drunkenness (at games), and they need to see that fans-on-the-field happens in some orderly fashion."
Booth, 68, said a paramedic told him he spent about 35 seconds "in the dead zone," when he was brought to Anderson Area Medical Center that night. While he's let go much of the anger he had then, Booth doesn't understand why Clemson officials didn't diffuse such a volatile situation. The fact that administrators wouldn't let people on the field after Maryland a week earlier means they knew the potential dangers, Booth says.
"We were just left wide open and there was no way for us to avoid it," Booth said.
Anderson County's Taylor says about 50 or 60 of his officers typically work games. The department gets "a couple of hundred" dollars for the detail and doesn't want to give that up, Taylor said.
Phillips, who recently finished his first year as athletic director, thinks the task force's plan is one everyone can live with. One issue discussed was the best way to use reserve deputies - Anderson County sheriff's personnel who are not full-time officers and not as well-trained in handling crowd situations. "The issue becomes how you use them and where do you use them if they're not as prepared," Phillips said.
Phillips also said plans include a campaign to raise awareness about drinking before ballgames - often a big part of tailgating parties. But the hardest sell, he said, might be limiting fan access to the field - a Clemson tradition.
"I still think there are some mixed feelings about that," Phillips said. "When you take away a wonderful tradition they have had here, it does give you pause. But you find a little better way to tweak it in the best interests of everyone."
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