By Wayne Sterling and Amanda Jackson, CNN
With less than a minute to go in the Mississippi Rebels and Tennessee Volunteers game Saturday night, fans threw trash onto the field following a defensive stop by the Rebels at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Water bottles, pizza boxes, and beer cans littered the field, and a thrown golf ball hit Rebels coach Lane Kiffin.
Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey called the fans’ action “unacceptable” and said the league “will review existing Conference policies and the Commissioner’s authority to impose penalties and communicate with the leadership at the University of Tennessee.”
Kiffin, who was returning to Knoxville for the first time since 2009 when he coached the Volunteers to a 7-6 season, said after the game he felt a sense of relief.
“They were just throwing stuff and I just said put your helmet on and let’s play. Actually there were people who came over that moved us off,” Kiffin said on the field. “They’re passionate fans, and there’s 100,000 people that came to see a show. It didn’t end up the way they wanted, so it is what it is.”
Kiffin’s father, Monte, had to be escorted from the field as well as the Rebels’ coach’s sister, Heidi, according to ESPN.
“The Conference has established expectations for behavior and sportsmanship, and the actions of fans at Saturday night’s game were unacceptable under any circumstances,” said Sankey in a statement. “We are accustomed to intense competition every week, but under no circumstances is it acceptable to endanger the contest participants and disrupt a game.”
Tennessee Chancellor Donde Plowman condemned on Twitter the fans’ behavior.
“I am astonished and sickened by the behavior of some Vol fans at the end of tonight’s game,” Plowman wrote. “Good sportsmanship must be part of who we are as Volunteers. Behavior that puts student-athletes, visitors and other fans at risk is not something we will tolerate.”
She added she would personally apologize to Mississippi Chancellor Glenn Boyce for the fan’s actions.
Danny White, Tennessee Vice Chancellor/Director of Athletics, echoed Plowman’s statement and apologized to the Mississippi football program.
“Our Tennessee fanbase had much to be proud of through 59 minutes of football Saturday night — they created one of the best live sporting atmospheres I’ve ever experienced — but what transpired in the game’s final minute was unacceptable,” White said in a statement.
“Player and fan safety is paramount at all times. While I’m incredibly proud of our team’s effort on the field, I’m disappointed that their relentless performance was overshadowed in the game’s closing moments by the actions of several fans whose actions did not represent the Volunteer Spirit or the true character of our university.”
As for the game, the No. 13 Rebels won 31-26 to improve to 5-1 overall, 2-1 in the SEC. The Volunteers dropped to 4-3 overall, 2-2 in conference play.
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