The Southeastern Conference announced Monday that it was assessing Tennessee a $250,000 fine in the aftermath of fans throwing bottles and other debris onto the field last Saturday at Neyland Stadium near the end of Volunteers’ 31-26 loss to Ole Miss.
With 54 seconds to play, the game was stopped for 20 minutes when fans began showering the Ole Miss sideline with bottles, cans and other projectiles, including a golf ball that hit Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin. Tennessee had just been stopped on fourth down after a questionable spot by officials.
The Ole Miss players were moved away from the sideline to the middle of the field, while the Ole Miss cheerleaders were also evacuated from the sideline and the Tennessee marching band was relocated from its normal place in the stands. Objects were being thrown from both the lower and upper decks and primarily from the sections where students normally sit.
In addition to the fine, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey set forth requirements that Tennessee must adhere to under the sportsmanship, game management and alcohol availability policies established by the SEC.
“The disruption of Saturday night’s game is unacceptable and cannot be repeated on any SEC campus,” Sankey said in a statement. “Today’s actions are consistent with the oversight assigned by the membership to the SEC office, including the financial penalty and review of alcohol availability. We will use this opportunity to reemphasize to each SEC member the importance of providing a safe environment even with the intensity of competition that occurs every week. We will also re-engage our membership in further review of the alcohol availability policy to consider additional measures for the sale and management of alcohol while providing the appropriate environment for collegiate competition.”
The SEC is not suspending alcohol sales privileges for the University of Tennessee “at this time,” according to the release, but reserves the right to do so if UT fails to meet all of the requirements handed down by the league.
Among those requirements:
• Be required to use all available resources, including security, stadium and television video, to identify individuals who threw objects onto the playing field or at the opposing team. All individuals identified as having been involved in disrupting the game shall be prohibited from attending Tennessee athletics events for the remainder of the 2021-22 academic and athletic year.
• Review and update its athletics department game management procedures and alcohol availability policies to prevent a recurrence of Saturday night’s disruption, which shall include an evaluation of agreed-upon SEC sportsmanship, game management and alcohol policies to verify full compliance with existing standards.
• Following completion of this review and prior to Tennessee’s next home football game, the university shall provide a report to the league office to summarize its efforts to identify and penalize offenders and its plan to enact policies to prevent future similar incidents while ensuring compliance with conference standards.
The UT Police Department arrested 18 people, while 47 people were removed from the game, according to preliminary records, WVLT News in Knoxville reported. A spokesman for UT police said there wasn’t any current information on how many of the arrests were students, but one of those arrested was a 54-year-old man from Georgia.
Tisha Benton, a spokesperson for the university, said any students identified as having taken part in throwing debris onto the field Saturday will lose the ability to attend future games.
Tennessee athletic director Danny White said that he had been in communication with Sankey throughout the weekend. “As I stated after the game, the actions that led to the temporary stoppage of play were unacceptable,” White said in a statement. “The conduct of a small percentage of fans has led to unfortunate consequences on multiple fronts. While I don’t believe that conduct is representative of the Tennessee fanbase as a whole, I understand this imperative action by the league. Safety is paramount.”
Sankey said during an interview Sunday night on “The Nation” syndicated radio show in Tennessee that stopping the game altogether was a consideration as debris continued to be thrown out of the stands.
“It was on my mind. I will say that,” Sankey said. “I was clear in a couple of messages that I was of the mindset that we could stop if order couldn’t be restored. I wanted to be patient … and appreciate the patience of the people involved to allow play to resume. But, again, under no circumstances should that ever take place.”
Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said Monday at his weekly news conference that he was disappointed that an otherwise memorable atmosphere at Neyland Stadium was overshadowed by what happened in the final minute of the game.
“I know for some people, the story is what happened [at the end of the game],” Heupel said. “Our administration has obviously made it clear that’s not what we want in the Volunteer spirit. You know, I feel the same way. It was a very few number of fans [who threw objects onto the field].
“But the passion and energy from our fan base, and I’ve been in a lot of competitive arenas as a player and a coach, there was nothing better than I’ve ever been in that what happened Saturday night.”