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College Football Fans Can’t Stop Rushing The Field. But Which Games Are Worth It?

Texas A&M student Karson Bell had never stormed a field before Oct. 9. Then he rushed two within eight hours.

Bell started his eventful Saturday in Dallas at the Cotton Bowl for the Red River Showdown, where he watched linebacker David Ugwoegbu (a lifelong friend) and the Oklahoma Sooners pull off a miraculous comeback behind the emergence of freshman quarterback Caleb Williams. “The fans were ecstatic,” Bell recalled. “Me and my brother were, like, looking around and thinking, ‘We need to rush this field. We can’t let this win happen without anyone rushing the field.’” Bell and his brother made their way to the student section, where they successfully converted the first field rush of their lives — and found Ugwoegbu in the process. 

And Bell wasn’t done. After a three-hour drive to College Station, he checked into Kyle Field and saw his Aggies topple No. 1 Alabama in the closing seconds, and he was one of the thousands who raced down from the stands, out of 106,815 in attendance. Bell captured the experience, which he executed while wearing slides, on TikTok. “Just don’t stop running,” he said when asked for advice for the field rush novice. “Don’t stop screaming. Fight your way to the middle and enjoy it. Because it’s definitely a memory. Not many people can do it. It’s a lot of fun.”

From Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, to Corvallis, Oregon, postgame on-field fan celebrations have been more pronounced in seemingly all manner of matchups: blowouts and nail-biters, intradivisional tilts and old-school rivalries. Seven conferences and thousands of fans have been represented in the collective swell this year after the pandemic-shortened, mostly-fan-less 2020 season.1 A recent ESPN promotional advertisement for the sport showcased a crush of humanity with the words “Welcome Home” overlayed.

By FiveThirtyEight’s count, there have been at least 15 instances of fans storming the field2 through Week 8 of the college football season, more than there were in the entire 2018 (10 storms) and 2019 (14 storms) seasons.3

Of course, there is a mountain of evidence to suggest swarms of people scurrying onto a field in the moments after a game is unsafe. Assuming that venue security doesn’t throw them back into the stands or that they aren’t swallowed up by any sideline flora, fans can and often do get legitimately injured once they feel grass beneath their shoes. Earlier this season, a BYU student at his first Cougar football game rushed the field after the team’s win over Utah, broke his leg and required surgery. Hospitalization is not uncommon. An infamous stampede at Camp Randall Stadium in 1993 resulted in 73 injuries.

Maryland v Ohio State

Related: Our 2021 College Football Predictions

Though safety should be the biggest concern, there are also other reasons not to rush the field. Was the game important enough to risk the accompanying danger? Was the ending exciting enough? Was the overall atmosphere enough to warrant the accompanying fees levied by most conferences?

FiveThirtyEight aimed to find out. We developed a new metric to answer those questions: What’re You Doing (On That Field), or WYD. 

This isn’t meant to measure the quality of the storm itself, but rather the context leading up to it. The metric includes inputs for team and opponent rank in the Associated Press poll, kickoff time, whether the matchup was a rivalry,4 whether the matchup was decided in regulation, whether a walk-off score occurred5 and whether the game was decided by one score. The higher the WYD score, the more legitimate the field-storming was; the lower the score, the more unfortunate the collective decision.

No additional points will be granted to those who tear down the goalposts; that mostly just seems like wasteful overkill that produces spectacular photographs. Furthermore, extra points will not be allocated for fans rushing the field multiple times in a single game. Some other rules of note: The storm has to occur after the game,6 and the team cannot have an unofficial tradition in place that necessitates a post-win storm celebration after every home game.7 

Our very arbitrary but rigorously tallied WYD scoring system is as follows: 

  • A one-score victory is worth 1.5 points.
  • A walk-off victory is worth 5 points.
  • An overtime victory is 0.5 points.
  • A prime-time victory is worth 1 point.8
  • A win by an AP ranked team over a ranked opponent is worth 3 points.
  • A win by an AP ranked team over a lower-ranked opponent is worth 2 points.
  • A win by an unranked team over an AP ranked opponent is worth 4 points.
  • A win by an AP ranked team over a top-5 opponent is worth 5 points.
  • A win by an unranked team over an AP top-5 opponent is worth 7 points.
  • A win by an AP ranked team over a No. 1 opponent is worth 6.5 points.
  • A win by an unranked team over an AP No. 1 opponent is worth 9 points.
  • A win in a rivalry game is worth 3.5 points.
  • A win by an unranked team over an unranked opponent is worth negative 2 points.
  • A win by an AP ranked team over an unranked opponent is worth negative 4 points.

For teams that check more than one of the AP ranking boxes, we assigned them the highest-scoring one.9 With that calculus in mind, the most legitimate storm of the season belongs to Bell and his Aggies for their win over top-ranked Alabama (+16.5 WYD). Although it wasn’t a rivalry game, it featured a No. 1 team upset by an unranked opponent as time expired.

The least legitimate storm goes to Boston College for its win over Missouri (0.00 WYD) in a nonconference, nonrivalry matchup of two unranked teams. 

Texas A&M? Sure. Boston College? Hmmmm.

Football Bowl Subdivision teams whose fans have stormed the field during the 2021 season by score in the What’re You Doing (On That Field) metric

Date Field Stormers Opponent Team Opp. WYD
Oct. 9 Texas A&M Alabama 1 +16.50
Oct. 20 Appalachian State Coastal Carolina 14 +11.50
Sept. 26 N.C. State Clemson 9 +9.50
Oct. 2 Stanford Oregon 3 +9.00
Sept. 11 BYU Utah 21 +8.50
Oct. 9 Oklahoma Texas 6 21 +7.00
Sept. 3 Virginia Tech UNC 10 +6.50
Oct. 2 Kentucky Florida 10 +6.50
Oct. 9 Iowa Penn State 3 4 +6.50
Oct. 2 Oregon State Washington +5.50
Oct. 23 Iowa State Oklahoma State 8 +5.50
Sept. 11 Arkansas Texas 15 +5.00
Oct. 9 UMass UConn +1.50
Sept. 3 Kansas South Dakota +0.50
Sept. 25 Boston College Missouri +0.00

Source: News Stories

Aside from Clemson, whose “Gathering at the Paw” tradition dates back decades, perhaps the most storm-prone Football Bowl Subdivision program is found in Lawrence, Kansas. No team has lost more games in the playoff era than the Kansas Jayhawks (13-75, .148 win percentage), which also means that each home victory is a cause for celebration. Going off the work of my FiveThirtyEight colleague Alex Kirshner, Kansas has won 11 home games since 2014 and rushed the field after six of them, or 54.5 percent. 

A season after one nearly devoid of field storming, the floodgates have opened. College football has returned to something approaching normalcy in part through a long-held, ostentatious tradition: Sweaty college students scampering over railings and around security detail to run headlong into an ever-growing circle of bodies. It’s an admittedly odd if exhilarating rite of passage for many college football fans, one that thousands are happy to have back in 2021 — even if the victory being celebrated wasn’t particularly significant to the rest of us.

Check out our latest college football predictions.

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  1. There remains an ongoing public health crisis.

  2. In games in which at least one team was a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision.

  3. The 2020 season was effectively an off year, but Notre Dame managed to perform one anyway.

  4. FiveThirtyEight will rely on the comprehensive work of Jason Kirk of The Banner Society for this distinction.

  5. These take into account only games in which a score occurred with no time remaining on the clock or in overtime to end the game.

  6. Iowa State’s field rush during a weather delay and the climate change-inspired storm that occurred during halftime of the Yale-Harvard game in 2019 wouldn’t count.

  7. Looking at you, Clemson.

  8. Prime time is defined as a scheduled kickoff that occurred no earlier than 5 p.m. local time.

  9. So for example, when Texas A&M defeated Alabama, the Aggies were unranked beating a ranked team, unranked beating a top-5 team and unranked beating a No. 1 team, but they only got credit for the last achievement, which earned them 9 points.

Josh Planos is a writer based in Omaha. He has contributed to The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Washington Post.