Bringing Down Goalposts Safely

By Staff

Coaching Management, 12.10, November 2004,

It’s a familiar scene in college football. The final seconds tick off to end a game, students and other spectators rush the field, and within minutes the goalposts come crashing down into the maelstrom. For fans, it’s a way to celebrate a big victory, and at some schools it has almost become a tradition.

But for those in charge of the game, attacks on the goalposts can create a serious safety issue. After Clemson University beat rival University of South Carolina in November 2002, fans tore down Clemson’s goalposts, sending a security officer to the hospital with collarbone and rib fractures. Last year, Memorial Stadium goalposts came down again following an upset win over Florida State, resulting in several minor injuries.

"We decided we couldn’t have this kind of chaos happening," says Katie Hill, Senior Associate Athletic Director at Clemson. "And we knew we weren’t going to change the culture of our fans coming out onto the field. So we asked, if we’re going to have fans on the field, how can we make it safer?"

The answer came last year when a West Virginia entrepreneur approached the athletic department with a unique idea—hydraulically-operated collapsible goalposts. "I was a bit skeptical at first, but the more we looked into the idea, the better we liked it," Hill says.

The first of their kind anywhere, two sets of the new goalposts were installed during the off-season. "We had looked at some other institutions that take down their goalposts after games, and they were having groundspeople do it manually," Hill says. "We thought that could put our facility workers in harm’s way. With our automated system, as soon as the game ends, they come right down."

Hill describes the collapsing process as "quite a sight." Triggered by remote control, it begins with the crossbar and its goose-neck support rising about four feet above their normal height. Next, both uprights lean forward until they are parallel with the ground. Then, the posts are lowered by a hydraulic arm until they’re resting flat on the field. The whole process takes just 15 seconds, and security workers keep fans away from the area where the posts are being lowered.

With the units safely on the ground, Clemson fans are free to celebrate on the field and interact with players as usual after games. "By taking them down right away, we remove that challenge and diffuse the ‘Let’s take the fort’ mentality that some fans might have when they get excited," Hill explains. "Since the goalposts can’t be the focal point of their energy, it becomes a non-issue, and that makes everyone safer."

The new apparatus, which cost approximately $50,000 to purchase and install, has thus far proven successful. After the Tigers beat Wake Forest in their home opener on Sept. 4, the posts collapsed as planned, and Hill says that fans who rushed the field more or less ignored them.