As the game clock ticked down on Saturday, Sept. 10, the Georgia Southern Eagles had officially secured a stunning 45-42 upset victory over the Nebraska Huskers at Memorial Stadium.
An elated group of Eagle players sprinted down the sideline in celebration and went directly to the south end zone — right in front of Nebraska’s student section. In addition to boos, debris rained down on them from upper levels of Nebraska’s student section onto the field.
According to University of Nebraska-Lincoln Assistant Police Chief Marty Fehringer, who oversees game day security at Memorial Stadium, incidents like what took place at the end of the Georgia Southern game have become common this season. Fehringer said that his department has noticed a significant spike in reported debris-throwing incidents occurring in the student section over the Huskers’ last two home games.
In Nebraska’s seven home games in 2021, there were six total reported incidents of debris being thrown within the confines of Memorial Stadium. During the first three home games this year, 17 incidents were reported. Additionally, Fehringer said that the Husker athletic department has received three email messages from ticket holders complaining about the bottle throwing issue in the student section.
In those emails, Fehringer said that people reported that they were hit with empty bottles and that it was ruining their ability to watch the game. He said that both fans and UNL students alike have alerted Memorial Stadium security in recent weeks about the constant throwing of plastic water bottles and alcohol shooters, miniature bottles containing about 50 milliliters of alcohol.
This raises obvious safety concerns, according to Fehringer.
“Everybody’s at Memorial Stadium to try and enjoy the game, and that’s all we’re trying to make happen, to give people the ability where they aren’t getting hit while they’re trying to watch the game,” he said.
Reports of empty alcohol shooters being thrown raises an additional challenge for Fehringer and Memorial Stadium security, given that alcohol is prohibited within the confines of Memorial Stadium according to the athletic department’s game-day policy. However, Fehringer said that security guards aren’t able to catch 100% of alcohol that fans attempt to sneak into Memorial Stadium, largely due to the small size of shooter bottles.
Any fan at Memorial Stadium caught throwing debris toward the field of play is subject to automatically being removed from the stadium, according to the athletic department’s game-day policy. Punishment for students caught throwing shooters can vary in severity based on whether or not the perpetrator is a minor and whether or not the perpetrator has alcohol still on their person, according to Fehringer. Simply removing the perpetrator is an option for stadium security, as is citing them in violation of the state minor in possession or open container laws, depending on their age.
The most significant way that Fehringer and his department are working to curtail the bottle throwing in the student section is by working directly with the university.
“Based on the number of complaints we got, we decided that we would take a little bit of a different approach to where we would work with student conduct on campus if it was a student that got caught throwing bottles,” Fehringer said.
Moving forward, Fehringer said that UNL students could face long-term repercussions should they be removed from Memorial Stadium for throwing debris, which tracks with another proactive measure that the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Police Department (UNLPD) put on Twitter ahead of Nebraska’s home game against Oklahoma on Sept. 17.
“Throwing objects inside Memorial Stadium is strictly prohibited and will result in immediate ejection from the game,” a Sept. 16 tweet from UNLPD’s official Twitter account read. “Any student ejected for throwing objects will be banned from attending home games for the remainder of the season.”
Fehringer did not note whether or not this disciplinary policy has been used yet in 2022.
The Iron N, the official student section of Husker athletics, is another group that could make inroads toward reducing the significance of bottle throwing in the student section. Iron N president Jill Gillespie said via text message that the group has been made aware of recent reports of bottle throwing and its representatives plan to meet with the athletic department about combating the issue.
Fehringer and his department are not planning to increase the amount of security personnel in the student section or adjust anything else from a security perspective at future home games. He said that UNLPD will continue being proactive on social media, clearly outlining repercussions that debris throwers could face, and that the security presence around the student section will remain the same as it was for the Oklahoma game.
Moving forward, Fehringer hopes that bottle-throwing students think about others before throwing debris in the student section. What might be perceived as harmless fun could actually be detrimental to the action on the field, as Fehringer noted that the Huskers could receive a penalty if objects thrown from the stands interrupt the game.
Fehringer and his security crew will do their due diligence for each remaining home game to ensure that the worst case scenario of an in-game penalty caused by objects thrown from the stands does not occur. Until then, he hopes that the recent string of bottle throwing at Husker football games will prompt students to think about who and what they’re representing each Saturday.
“We have so many great students,” he said. “I don’t want this to be one thing somebody might see and they think that this reflects the entire student body when that’s not the case at all.”