The Big 12 Conference has retained Oak View Group to conduct a full review of its gameday security amid a recent uptick in clashes between athletes and fans, often occurring when fans storm the football field after wins.
The firm, founded in 2015 by longtime sports and entertainment executives Tim Leiweke and Irving Azoff, will study the safety infrastructure of every Big 12 football and basketball venue, then report back with specific feedback and minimum standards. The process is aimed at combating a growing problem in college sports that not only threatens security of fans, students and employees, but is also often costly for schools themselves.
Earlier this year the league fined Texas Tech $50,000 when its fans stormed the field following an overtime victory over Texas. In the celebration, a Longhorns player was assaulted by a Red Raiders fan, prompting an investigation from the Texas Tech Police Department.
“Oak View Group and the Big 12 conference are collectively focused on providing a great experience—for our guests, our athletes, and the employees who work in these venues,” Chris Granger, CEO of Oak View’s facilities division, said in an interview. “I’m thrilled with the intensity of focus that the Big 12 is putting on safety and security, and how they prioritize that when it comes to the overall experience.”
Financial specifics weren’t provided.
The review will be conducted by Prevent Advisors, a unit of Oak View Group, which is in the process of auditing every Big 12 football stadium, including those of the four incoming members. After it examines the basketball venues, it will deliver its school-specific recommendations and hold a league-wide summit to share its findings. The firm, which already oversees venue management and/or hospitality a handful of Big 12 venues, will also consult more broadly on the conference’s gameday experience.
“Ensuring the safety and security of all of our gameday constituents is crucial,” Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark said in a statement. “Additionally, this partnership will allow us to be proactive in bettering all aspects of the gameday experience across our conference.”
Yormark, who was hired in June, has been aggressive in his first few months on the job as the conference prepares for major change. The Big 12 is losing Oklahoma and Texas, its two highest-profile members, and adding four others (UCF, Cincinnati, Houston and BYU). As the power center in college sports concentrates on the SEC and Big Ten, leagues such as the Big 12 and Pac-12 are scrambling to bolster their membership and keep pace financially. Last week, the Big 12 inked $2.28 billion worth of media rights extensions with Disney and Fox.
While security has always been a concern at major football and basketball games, the matter appears to be gaining urgency across the conferences. When Tennessee beat Alabama last month, fans tore down the goalposts and ripped up parts of the field to take home as keepsakes. It took six days for the field to be playable again. The school was fined $100,000 by the SEC, and the next offense will be $250,000. The Vols later asked alumni to foot the $150,000 bill for new goalposts (and raised more than $160,000). During that same celebration, an Alabama player had an altercation with a female Tennessee fan.
A few weeks later, players from Michigan State and Michigan fought in the tunnel following their Big Ten matchup, leading to eight suspensions. Last week, after Kansas became bowl eligible for the first time since 2008, fans rushed the field and tore down the goalposts. Afterwards, video of a security debrief at the stadium went viral on Twitter.
“The security head giving the briefing said, ‘Hey, we expected this to happen. We expected the goalposts to come down. Shit happens,’” Michael Downing, chief security advisor for Prevent Advisors, said in an interview, paraphrasing the clip. “Well, in my opinion, shit happens if you let shit happen. It’s celebratory, no question, but imagine if somebody got their head crushed by those goalposts coming down.”