In the aftermath of the garbage storm at Neyland Stadium that sent players and cheerleaders alike running from the sidelines — and saw Lane Kiffin embrace his inner Odell Beckham, Jr. — the SEC announced on Monday that the University of Tennessee would be fined $250,000 for their fans’ behavior during the Vols’ 31-26 loss to Ole Miss.
Throwing trash in your own stadium is a bad — and even potentially dangerous — look, and a fine from the conference is an appropriate response. Will the boosters pay for it? Probably. In fact, it’s highly unlikely the football program will actually feel the financial hit. It is, after all, the college football way.
But where I take umbrage at this is the fact that earlier this month, the University of Kentucky was fined the exact same amount for rushing the field after a home win against then-ranked No. 10 Florida. It was the first time the Wildcats had beaten Florida at home since the 1980s, and their first win over a top-10 team in over a decade — a situation in which rushing the field would probably be the first instinct of most students and fans in the stands.
Again, it cost the University of Kentucky a steep $250,000 fine for violating the SEC’s policy restricting “access to the competition area.” Similarly, Texas A&M was fined $100,000 by the SEC for rushing the field after beating No.1 Alabama. (Maybe the higher ranked the opponent, the less you’re charged for storming the field? Only joking — the first offense for a field rush is $50,000, and the penalty increases with each following offense from the school).
Something just doesn’t quite sit right about two schools receiving equal penalties for an adrenaline-filled celebration that none of the current students in the stands had ever participated in and an angry display that turned the field into a dumpster. The thing is that neither of the penalties really affect the fans who participated — a fact generally seen as a good thing for field-rushing fines, as verified by several athletic directors and donors happy to pay after games — but perhaps not harsh enough for the Tennessee group that rained down golf balls, mustard bottles, and empty cans onto unsuspecting cheerleaders.
It seems to me that the SEC may want to reevaluate some of its monetary penalties. Plenty of conferences don’t fine for field rushing — a college football tradition as old as time and virtually unstoppable once the crowd makes up their mind — and the SEC continuing to enforce quarter-million dollar fines for a celebration that pretty much everyone watching on TV wishes they were a part of just seems harsh and, honestly, useless in curbing the rush.
Again, neither of these schools will really feel a hit with these fines. Maybe I’m overreacting, but I think the Vols crowd probably should have to take on some of that punishment. We can all understand getting pissed about a bad call or two going against our team, but for throwing trash? I think the options of forfeiting the game or not allowing fans for the next home game might have been more appropriate penalties.
But then again, collective punishment is banned under the Geneva Convention. For now, the school will take the hit.