Incident with Nebraska player prompts review

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The University of Oklahoma has begun
re-examining its gameday operations at all sporting events to
ensure the safety of fans and players, athletic director Joe
Castiglione said Thursday.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Castiglione said the
school would restrict the on-field presence of a student spirit
group that had a member injured last season in a pregame collision
with a Nebraska player. Castiglione said the RUF/NEKS would be
prohibited from entering Owen Field more than 20 minutes prior to
the start of a game so they would not be present when the teams are
engaged in pregame drills.

The change is part of a continuing re-evaluation of gameday
policies that the university conducts from time to time,
Castiglione said. The focus of the investigation is widespread,
Castiglione said, and does not concentrate on the incident, which
led to a recent criminal trial. Incidents between fans and players
at Major League Baseball and National Basketball Association games
also demonstrate problems event managers have to consider, he said.

The athletic director said university officials would weigh
different options for how to best create a desirable gameday

"That might be everything from stronger controls to access to
positioning on or near the playing area," Castiglione said. "For
us, it's been a bigger picture view than just looking at this one
incident and reacting only to the incident itself."

Adam Merritt, a 19-year-old member of the Oklahoma RUF/NEKS
spirit club, suffered two broken teeth when a Nebraska football
player collided with him prior to the Cornhuskers' game against the
Sooners on Nov. 13. Former Nebraska offensive lineman Darren DeLone
was acquitted on a felony charge of aggravated assault and battery
on Wednesday.

Beyond the limit placed on the RUF/NEKS, other changes have not
yet been determined, but the evaluation is in its "final stages,"
he said.

According to testimony from a RUF/NEK in DeLone's trial, the
collision occurred after members of the spirit group had been
trash-talking with Cornhuskers' players. Castiglione said the
RUF/NEKS are present on the field to escort the Sooner Schooner
mascot and such "inappropriate behavior is not in any way one of
their functions."

"We haven't ever heard of anybody bringing forth a complaint of
a similar type of verbal engagement or we would have taken
action," Castiglione said. "This unfortunately led to a bigger

"The idea that an exchange occurred is troublesome and not
acceptable in the rules we currently have in place."

Castiglione said he had not considered any rule changes
involving the ceremonial shotguns RUF/NEKS are allowed to carry and
fire during football games. The shotguns, which do not carry live
ammunition but produce noise and smoke, became an issue at the
trial after Nebraska players complained the guns were intended to
impair their vision and hearing.

Castiglione said there would surely be differing opinions on the

"There may be some that think it's justifiable and there may be
some that would like to see some modification," he said. "There
is something to say for the respect of traditions that are not
adversely impacting the masses. ...

"We understand that there are some traditions that people have
taken issue with over the years and to some degree, those
traditions were terminated."

Castiglione said the school has had a positive relationship with
the student spirit group, which he compared to a fraternity without
a house.

"They have been very supportive, compliant and have shown some
responsibility," Castiglione said. "In this case, a very small
number engaged in behavior that was not acceptable. Those
individuals will be suspended and will not be invited back."

Although the RUF/NEKS have drawn the ire of Nebraska's athletic
department and added attention because of the trial, Castiglione
said the evaluation would address any sporting venue where
spectators or spirit groups were located near the playing surface --
including basketball and baseball games.

Among the concerns, Castiglione said, are situations when fans
rush onto a basketball court or football field after a surprising
victory or yell insults at opposing players in any sport.
Castiglione said administrators at any university are preparing to
deal with similar problems.

"We've got to continue to educate and remind and uphold
standards of decorum and behavior and respect at the same time
we're trying to create a great deal of spirit for our teams and try
to add to the pageantry and atmosphere that we all love to
celebrate within intercollegiate athletics," he said.