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For safety, schools try to build a better goal post

Sunday, November 20, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:04 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 13, 2008

At the first collegiate football game, played in 1869 between Princeton University and Rutgers University, there were no goal posts to take down. The sport did not use a crossbar, giving the post an H-shape, until 1876.

Until the 1960s, collegiate goal posts were typically made of wood, and therefore both easier to tear down and less dangerous. In the 1960s, however, NCAA rules were changed to require the uprights to stand 10 feet taller.

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Wooden posts were deemed too weak to withstand the wind at the higher height and were replaced by metal posts, shaped like the letter Y. MU installed metal posts in 1968. The posts currently used are a mixture of aluminum and steel.

“Wooden posts had a tendency to tear and wobble in the wind, so when the requirement went to 20 feet, it called for a stronger material to be used,” said Neil Gilman, president of Gilman Gear, a goal post manufacturer in Gilman, Conn.

Dozens of universities have installed collapsible goal posts to bring the posts down before fans have a chance to do it themselves. At the 2003 Sportsmanship and Fan Behavior Summit, the NCAA’s Football Issues Committee suggested that all institutions consider automatic goal posts that can be taken down after each game, said Vince Dooley, former athletic director of the University of Georgia and chair of the 2003 Sportsmanship and Fan Behavior Summit.

Even collapsible posts, however, aren’t always a deterrent. The University of Kansas, for example, installed hinged goal posts in 2003, after defeating MU and losing its goal posts to student fanfare. This year, the hinged posts were hauled away twice, after the MU and Nebraska games, to adhere to the tradition of throwing the posts in Potter’s Lake on the Lawrence campus.

Jim Marchiony, KU’s associate athletic director of external affairs, said he was disappointed that the posts were stolen, because KU had defeated Nebraska the previous year.

“The type of goal post is irrelevant when you have hundreds and thousands of mindless fans,” Marchiony said. “The people who stormed the field didn’t do it because they didn’t know better, they did it because they weren’t thinking. No amount of education will change that. What may change it is more wins or somebody getting hurt or killed.”

One of the priorities of MU’s new seven-member committee that was formed to review post-game security and find new ways to keep fans off the field is to evaluate whether or not collapsible goal posts are right for MU. Tad Dunn, assistant athletic director for game operations at MU, has contacted several companies to learn about the various types.

Gilman’s company sells a hinged aluminum version for $6,800 to $8,300 per set, about $2,000 more than what it charges for a traditional set. Collapsing the set requires at least three people on the field and takes about 20 seconds.

“We recommend the hinge because it is going to hopefully reduce the likelihood of an injury,” he said. “If the goal posts are lowered to the ground, then you won’t have a situation of fans climbing 10 feet in the air. When we design a goal post, the product is not designed to be climbed on — it’s not a jungle gym.”

Gilman encourages schools to collapse the goal posts after every game, win or lose, in order to establish the precedent that the goal posts should not be a target for fan celebration.

“You don’t wait for a rivalry game,” he said.

Gilman said security is the most important factor in ensuring post-game safety. His product is now in place at 25 schools.

Mark Nelson, superintendent of Merchant’s Environmental Industries, sells “indestructible” goal posts for $23,400 per pair. His posts are made of steel, instead of aluminum, making them weigh 1,850 pounds — around 1,200 pounds heavier than traditional models — and more difficult to break. He has built his posts at 26 schools. He admits that nothing is “indestructible,” but says that his are far stronger than traditional models.

Jim Snider, a general contractor working in construction, invented the hydraulic football goal post in fall 2002, after attending a riotous West Virginia University-Boston College football game in Morgantown, W.Va. His company, S5 Sports, charges $65,000 per set. The posts are lowered by remote control.

“My concept is to dispel them in less than 10 seconds, so no personnel ... are in the melee,” Snider said. “You don’t need to replace these. They are cheap compared to a multi-million dollar wrongful death lawsuit.”

The hydraulic goal posts are used at Clemson University and Southern Methodist University. Katie Hill, senior associate athletic director at Clemson, said fans have not rushed the field since the posts were installed for the 2004 season.

“We got the swiftest goal posts on the planet,” Hill said. “The goal posts are a non-factor. If you charge the field, there’s nothing to tear down. It’s not that student melee we had before.”

MU has experimented with collapsible posts twice. In 1993, after MU fans tore down the goal posts after defeating Illinois, collapsible posts were installed and used until 1996. When these were later destroyed, MU went back to permanent posts.

Bob Stanley, MU’s assistant athletic director for facilities, said the collapsible posts’ weight made them difficult to lower, requiring officials to attach a tractor to lower them.

During the 2003 season, an old pair of MU’s posts were retrofitted with a hinge to use during certain games where officials thought students might tear down the goal posts. Stanley designed a mechanical system involving a pulley, levers and an electric motor in order to make the process easier than in the past. He timed the process so the posts could be taken down in less than 10 seconds, but at the MU-Nebraska game that year, fans reached the posts before MU’s staff could safely remove the posts.

“We didn’t have nine seconds,” Stanley said. “There were 1,000 people swarming the north goal post. We were overwhelmed. It was a perilous situation. Our experience has been less than positive with collapsible posts.”

Considering that part of the tradition at MU involves chopping up the posts for souvenirs, Stanley said he was not optimistic that collapsible posts are the answer. “I am completely confident that even if we had gotten them down, people would have taken them and torn them up,” he said.


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