Scott Bordow: The first reaction is horror. You watch video of the Dallas Cowboys’ practice bubble collapsing, and you read about the injuries: A scout permanently paralyzed, a coach with a fractured vertebra, a trainer with two broken bones in his leg.
The first reaction is horror.
You watch video of the Dallas Cowboys’ practice bubble collapsing, and you read about the injuries: A scout permanently paralyzed, a coach with a fractured vertebra, a trainer with two broken bones in his leg.
You talk to former Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter, who signed as a free agent with the Cowboys and was in the bubble when 70 mph winds from a microburst tore it apart.
Carpenter can’t talk on the record — the team has told players not to comment — but he describes the scene to you and says he was incredibly fortunate not to be hurt.
Then your mind wanders to Aug. 29, 2008, the night ASU’s practice bubble also was destroyed by storms that blew through Tempe. And you wonder: What if the football team had been practicing inside the bubble when the storm hit? Would the players, coaches and support personnel have gotten out? Would there have been serious injuries?
And the overriding question: Are practice bubbles safe?
There is one important distinction that must be made between what happened in Tempe and the tragedy at the Cowboys’ headquarters. Dallas’ practice bubble was supported by a metal frame. When that much weight comes crashing down, the chance of a significant injury increases greatly. ASU’s bubble, on the other hand, is supported by air.
A call to Yeadon Structures, which built ASU’s $8.6 million facility, wasn’t returned Monday. ASU officials, through a university spokesman, also declined comment. But Donato Fraioli, the CEO of Air Structures American Technologies Inc., said air-supported structures are dramatically safer than those with metal frames.
“The worst that could happen if it had a failure of any sort … the fabric would fall over the interior players,” Fraioli told CNN … “There are not steel beams to run into or any aluminum frames to run into.”
Still, with the football season looming, ASU officials should re-evaluate their safety standards in light of what happened in Dallas. In particular:
1. Just how safe is ASU’s bubble in a violent storm or microburst? Even if the structure is supported by air, is the chance of injury still significant? And if so, does the university need to reconsider the use of the facility?
2. What is ASU’s liability in case of a collapse? That may seem insignificant given the serious injuries suffered by Cowboys personnel, but the university has to be aware of the financial ramifications should it find itself in court.
3. Has ASU established a set of standards for when it’s safe to practice inside the bubble?
It’s clear by now that the fabric used in practice bubbles is vulnerable to extreme weather conditions, particularly high winds. The solution seems simple: If there is any threat of a severe storm — any threat at all — stay out of the bubble.
Is that overly cautious?
Not after what transpired this past weekend in Dallas.
It’s ironic. These bubbles were built so teams could have a place to practice when the weather was bad. Instead, there’s one final question to ask:
Is a two-hour football practice worth the risk?