OXFORD: Town and gown take on different football behavior

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Football weekends at the University of Mississippi are a mixture of treats and troubles.
The Grove becomes Ground Zero for hospitality, and few sports generate the fan excitement of SEC football. On the other hand, some fans invariably let their fun get out of hand and end up facing charges – most often related to overindulgence in alcohol.
Calvin Sellers, chief of the University Police Department, said that this year on-campus security was fairly smooth.
“Any time you’ve got large numbers of people crowded together and consuming alcohol, there will always be some fights – mostly pushing and shoving – but overall, I don’t think it was too bad,” he said.
On a typical home-game weekend, he said, UPD made 20-25 arrests, with usually one-third to one-half of those inside the stadium.
“Where you would think we’d have the most problems – Alabama, Tennessee and LSU were the biggest crowds – it was actually pretty tame,” he said.
In the city of Oxford, the situation was different. Ballgame weekend arrests ranged from fewer than 30 to 60.
“Our two toughest ones were Alabama and LSU,” said Oxford Police Chief Mike Martin. “We had a lot of skirmishes both Friday night and Saturday night on those.”
This past weekend, when LSU was in town, one reveler was sent to The MED in Memphis with a fractured skull, and police are still investigating whether the injury was due to assault or accident.
Martin said more trouble happens in Oxford than on campus because so many fans crowd into the city’s downtown bars just as postgame resentments overflow.
“Back when I was on the street as a patrolman, we didn’t have this many bars, and they were kind of separated,” Martin said. “Now, you can pub crawl, right out of one into another. You add alcohol and fan rivalry together, and generally speaking, something’s going to erupt.”
LSU invariably brings the rowdiest crowds, he said: “You can just about guarantee we’re going to have our hands full when they come to town.”
At peak times on Friday and Saturday nights of ballgame weekends, Oxford may have 50 officers on duty, including the regular shift patrols that look after the routine problems.
Because there may be more than 60,000 fans inside the stadium and thousands more who stay at their tailgating sites, UPD has at each home game its own 32 officers on duty and hires an additional 65 police officers from other agencies across North Mississippi.
Mississippi Department of Transportation and the Mississippi Highway Patrol contribute another 10-12 officers each for traffic control, and nearly 200 civilian security officers supplement the police effort.
“In 1986 when I first started working here, we worked everything ourselves,” Sellers said. “We worked the Grove, the stadium and the rest of campus with fewer than 25 people.”
In those days, however, Ole Miss played its biggest games in Jackson, and capacity in the campus stadium was only about 40,000 compared to more than 62,000 today.
Martin said the bar-hopping crowds can be a challenge even when no sports are involved. He plans to ask city officials to consider an as-yet undisclosed addition to OPD’s crowd-control capabilities.
“We have our hands full up there every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, even on non-ballgame weekends,” he said. “It’s pretty intense up there most of those nights. If it ain’t over school rivalries, it’s over some little girl.”

Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@djournal.com.