Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey says the league will review the "unacceptable" scene that unfolded during the closing minutes at Neyland Stadium on Saturday night amid Tennessee's 31-26 loss to No. 14 Ole Miss and consider imposing penalties.
Tennessee fans objected to referees ruling that the Vols' fourth-down attempt late in the fourth quarter came up a yard short of a first down, resulting in a turnover on downs. Fans littered the field with debris in protest.
Water bottles and beer cans were chucked onto the field. A fan threw a golf ball at Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin, who pocketed it. Even a bottle of mustard wound up on the field.
Tennessee's cheerleaders, spirit squad and band exited the scene and sought cover amid the chaos.
— Pick Six Previews (@PickSixPreviews) October 17, 2021
Tennessee cheerleaders shielding themselves from water bottles pic.twitter.com/K0Veh94HUC
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) October 17, 2021
“The Conference has established expectations for behavior and sportsmanship, and the actions of fans at Saturday night’s game were unacceptable under any circumstances," Sankey said 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. We will review existing Conference policies and the Commissioner’s authority to impose penalties and communicate with the leadership at the University of Tennessee — and all of the SEC’s member universities — to make certain this situation is not repeated.”
UT-Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman tweeted after the game that she was "astonished and sickened by the behavior of some Vol fans at the end of tonight’s game."
"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," Plowman wrote.
The game marked Tennessee's first sellout since the 2017 season.
Kiffin coached Tennessee for one season in 2009 before departing in January 2010 for the same job at Southern Cal. He remains one of the most polarizing figures in Tennessee.
Kiffin had returned to Neyland Stadium twice previously as Alabama's offensive coordinator, but Saturday marked his first return as an opposing head coach.
As Kiffin exited the field flanked by security, more objects were thrown in his direction, and he caught a water bottle out of the air with one hand.
Lane Kiffin caught a water bottle on his way out of Neyland Stadium — and tossed his visor back 😅 pic.twitter.com/KVxZiPK7ZB
— ESPN (@espn) October 17, 2021
But Kiffin said the crowd's reaction probably had as much to do with fans' objections over the officiating as it did his presence.
“The majority of the people were actually really good, especially early in warmups. I think it was more students that were 8 (years old) or something when we were here before or whatever," Kiffin said.
"Early on, going out there, I thought it was a different reception. I think that’s one of the most passionate fan bases in America. You get 100,000 of them together and things don’t go their way and lot of energy is going, they got upset, I don’t know.
"I’m not sure it wasn’t partly at the refs, too, because they replayed the play, and I think they’re watching his other hand, thinking they had a first down. It is what it is.”
On the fourth-down play, Tennessee tight end Jacob Warren stretched his right hand forward toward the first-down marker as his knee hit the ground, but the ball was in his left hand, which was not extended.
The play was reviewed on replay, and the call was upheld.
Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer.
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Tennessee fans throw trash on field vs. Lane Kiffin and Ole Miss