Update: The SEC changed the policy regarding lightning in the Spring of 2014. The new rule suspends play at 8 miles instead of 6 miles. The existing 30 min delay minimum continues to be the standard. Delays can, and do, last longer than 30 minutes because the time restarts anytime a lightning strike occurs within the 8 mile radius. My thanks to Kevin Trainor, Associate Athletics Director, with the University of Arkansas for contacting me with the updated rule information. The study referenced below was conducted before the policy was changed. The map below shows the new 8 mile radius around Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
In the opening game of the season, nearby thunderstorms prompted delays at the Arkansas-Auburn game.
This Twitter Post from @AprilWisham highlights the danger to the thousands of fans gathered in a small location when lightning threatens the stadium. So what are the rules and guidelines used by the NCAA to protect players and fans?
Last month, I was fortunate to hear to a presentation from Dr. Mike Brown at Mississippi State University regarding a study he conducted involving lightning strike probabilities at NCAA/SEC Events. I attached a link to his peer-reviewed journal at the end of this post.
Here were the NCAA rules as it applied to Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The policy was revised in the spring of this year.
When lightning comes within 15 miles of the stadium (any direction) a designated on-site monitor notifies the on field officials but play continues.
When a lightning strike occurs within 10 miles of the stadium, the officials are notified and a PA address is made directing people to seek shelter in designated areas.
When lightning is within a 6 mile radius of the stadium, all play is suspended and the delay lasts for 30min past the last 6 mile strike. So if you wait 28min with no strikes and one occurs within a 6 mile area; the 30min rule starts over.
Most ticket/reentry policies do not let fans leave and come back into the stadium; however, in the incidence of weather delays, NCAA rules state the stadium must let fans leave and reenter regardless of individual policies.
According to the results of Dr. Brown, more than 500,000 strikes/week occur in the months of August and September and less than 500,000 strikes/week occur in October and November. The first part of the season has more lightning strikes. In fact, the first week of the season accounts for 29% of all lightning strikes and the first week is the most likely to be affected by lightning which is exactly what happened at the Arkansas/Auburn Game.
This diagram is from the Brown et al study at Mississippi State that evaluated the different zones of notification within the NCAA and the risk of lightning strikes.
The average length of any delay is just over 60min, and only 2.5% of the delays last over 70min. Interestingly, when under a delay (within 6 miles) there is only about a 10% of a strike at the stadium. When the 15 mile, 10 mile, & 6 mile zones the risk of a “disaster strike” at the stadium is only around 1.8%.
Current NCAA policy is sufficient and research shows that following the policy has the potential to reduce injuries and fatalities when storms move in. A link to the NCAA Policy is attached at the end of the article.
Another note, each SEC team has different policies but in terms of liability, (at least at Mississippi State) the university is not responsible for notifying tailgaters or people outside the stadium on college property. The extent of the responsibility to the public only applies to those inside the facility.