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What Manchester Means For College Football

This week's news of the Manchester bombing was another reminder that in the war on terror there are no battle lines and that it can reach anywhere. As the details of this case fall into place important lessons need to be learned. After every terrorist incident, law enforcement gains insight into how terrorist networks operate and how they exploited weaknesses.

Then government authorities adjust hoping to thwart the next plot.

After the attempted airplane shoe bombing our shoes got checked in airport security. The Boston Marathon bombing led to rules banning backpacks and large bags from stadiums.

But this fight is not static. Every time we react to the last attack, the terrorists adjust as well.

As part of the Paris Attack in 2015 a suicide bomber trying to enter a soccer stadium was stopped so he detonated his device outside. In Manchester it appears the attacker knew he would not get into the concert so he waited for his potential victims to come to him as they left the arena.

As terrorists change tactics, defenses must change; in particular in large-crowd setting like football games.

Does that mean changes for college football this fall? It is highly likely or we risk a disaster.

In College football over 120 teams play at the FBS level, meaning over 60 games per week and many different security protocols. It may be time for the conferences, the NCAA and the Department of Homeland Security to work together to enact common standards for all stadiums, establish training and provide funding to meet the challenges we face.

Currently standards do vary. Of all the places I’ve been, Ohio State was the most stringent. Bomb sniffing dogs checked the bags of the visiting team and coaches at the hotel before we boarded the bus to the game. At the game a large group of snipers were atop the stadium suites and press box dressed ominously in black and actively scanning the crowd.

A number of years ago a security study was conducted at Penn State and there were recommendations made. Penn State also made a practice of stationing snipers at the stadium.

But these are measures designed to secure people inside the venue.

But with the Manchester attack, the question now moves to what happens outside the stadium. College football games provide a number of soft targets outside the stadium including places where lines getting into the stadium get backed up.

In the early part of the last decade stadium design emphasized using a smaller number of entrances and exits to limit ways potential security risks could get into the stadium. Now the smaller number of entrances and exits may be serving the opposite purpose in bottlenecking people into crowds outside the venue on their way in or out. These bottlenecks create soft targets outside the stadium.

After Manchester do teams rethink venue design to eliminate the crowding that creates targets? Do schools add layers of checkpoints that move the security perimeter further out? How can we prevent a bomber from detonating outside the current security perimeter?

As with every reaction to a security challenge, there will be decisions made that inconvenience us. Surely there will be people who grumble, but the alternative risks and the potentially catastrophic outcome is worth a few more seconds getting into the game.

And as surely as we adjust to each new reality, so too will those who seek to do us harm. Like a much higher-stakes game plan, the key will be in having people on our side analyzing systems and anticipating our adversaries’ adjustments. Then the difficult task begins to shore up the security gaps before they can be exploited.

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