On Saturday, Texas Longhorns senior nickelback PJ Locke III was injured against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in T. Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater.
Not on the field of play, though — Locke bruised his tibia when he ran into a headset box on the sidelines.
Such an incident isn’t particularly surprising. After all, one of the biggest challenges when traveling to Stillwater is not just making it out with a win or without losing any players to injuries in the field of play, it’s avoiding injuries to players outside the field of play.
That’s because the clownbox in Stillwater has the tightest sidelines in college football. It’s even a point of pride for the university — “the Cowboys still enjoy the home-field advantage that suffocates opponents with the tightest sidelines in all of football.”
Yeah, well, suffocation isn’t the exact problem here...
Pokes fans love the idea of opponents crashing into headset boxes or the end lines or the sidelines so much that one undertook the tall task of measuring each sideline in college football to back up the school’s claim. Bask in the glory.
To be fair, the gloating by Oklahoma State and its fans is really more about the home-field advantage created by the tight sidelines — Stillwater’s finest are right in the ear of opponents on the sidelines. Let the glorious diction of Oklahoma rain down upon thee.
Jackie Sherrill famously hated it, a true badge of honor.
The problem is that those sidelines, estimated at 10 feet in sections by NewsOk.com, provide little room for opponents and all the necessary road accoutrements like headset boxes. The walls are padded, but extremely close to the field at the edges of the end zones and, actually, all across the field.
Two years ago, Texas running back D’Onta Foreman scored a touchdown and got banged up when he was pushed into one of those walls near the side of the end zone. On that 62-yard touchdown run, Foreman was hit by Ramon Richards, who was belatedly trying to rip the ball out. When Foreman had already scored.
So not even scoring protects opposing players from an Oklahoma State player endangering their health with a cheap shot like arriving late to try to rip the ball out and sending them into a wall as a result.
And why not? The play wasn’t flagged on the field, but the Cowboys got to put a good lick on the future Doak Walker Award winner, courtesy of a clownbox cheap shot.
Not often that giving up a 62-yard touchdown run benefits the defense that much.
On Monday, in the context of a quote about the commendable environment in college football’s foremost clownbox, Longhorns head coach Tom Herman noted his feelings about the sidelines in Stillwater.
“I think, you know, we didn’t play well on the road in a hostile environment. I mean, that was, that was a fun college football environment. That place, I wish the stands were a little bit farther from the sideline so we didn’t have guys, our starting nickel, running into, you know, headset boxes and all that and bruising his tibia.”
In other words, it would be nice to go on the road and not having to worry about players injuring themselves because of a terrible surface like the one at Faurot Field that destroyed Fozzy Whittaker’s knee in 2011 or because the stadium is an actual clownbox with ludicrous dimensions like T. Boone Pickens Stadium.
The two other stadiums with the tightest sidelines in college football — Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City and Folsom Field in Boulder — aren’t much better, but no Texas players ever came close to getting hurt against Colorado because of the sidelines in a game that I can recall and the Longhorns don’t have to travel to either place every two years. Or ever, now.
Neither stadium has sidelines as dangerous as those in Stillwater, either.
Would it be ideal for player safety if the dimensions were wider in each of those stadiums or generally more consistent across the board? Of course, and it would be smart for the NCAA to come up with regulations in that regard. Unfortunately, there aren’t right now.
For right now, Oklahoma State and its fans brag about having the tightest sidelines in college football and it’s clear that there’s a source of pride in the danger posed to opposing players.
Not said in so many words, certainly, but still a secondary reality resulting from the desire to gain every advantage possible for the crowd.
If some players like Locke get hurt as a result, so be it.
The good news? At least no Texas players will be put at risk again until 2020.