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Nancy Napier: How ten seconds can give you a better football experience

I never worry about safety at a football game maybe because I’ve never HAD to. I hope I never do. And 10 seconds may make the difference.

A sellout football game at Boise State brings together about 50,000 people into a 175 acre space for about six hours. That’s 36,000 ticket holders and another 15-20,000 tailgaters who never even see the inside of the stadium.

It’s a place where we all want to have a good time. But unfortunately, we also live in a world where stadiums and sports venues are attractive targets for criminal and terrorist activity.

This fall, my student assistant Madison Motzner and I are learning about what goes on behind the scenes at a football game. I got curious because it all seems to work so well that I hardly notice it as a fan. And one reason is the people who work hard to keep us safe so we can have a great experience.

We talked with several of the people who make this work—from university managers like Dave Ellis and John Kaplan to Mark Vucinich, owner of the security firm MAV, and some of his employees. We wanted to learn about what they do to help prevent harm of all sorts, from injuries to other threats.

Large professional sports venues, like NFL or baseball stadiums, have long had systematic security—from stadium sweeps and metal detectors to chemical experts and police forces. But even smaller venues, like Boise State, need to be prepared.

So what happens here?

For football games, the university works with the company MAV, which brings in over 300 security people, in addition to 40-60 Boise Police Department officers, and about 10 university experts. On top of that, many other agencies help out—federal to local. And we have metal detectors—one of the first universities to take that step. Evidently, it’s worked well for us, so far.

In fact, in 2015, Albertsons Stadium at Boise State University won a merit award from the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4) for its systematic and successful security (other 2015 winners included Auburn and University of California, Berkeley, not bad company).

But sometimes, we fans make the job of keeping us safe hard for those who want to protect us.

Apparently, 20 minutes before the game, some 60% of ticket holders, or 20,000 people on a big day, are NOT in the stadium, and think they can breeze through security to reach their seats before kickoff. No wonder some fans get testy, or worse.

The search of your bag and walk through a metal detector doesn’t take long, usually about 8-10 seconds, assuming you don’t need to be wanded. And this happens for everyone entering the stadium, which is about 1200-1300 people per gate per game. The security folks work fast but we need to help them out—maybe head to our seats 10 minutes earlier, realize we’re in “airport mode” even in the stadium, and be grateful that we can relax and enjoy the game because of these people.

Perhaps “nothing bad happens in Boise” because of what these folks do and so much else we may never see. It could be that ten seconds that makes a difference.

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