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Alcohol at College Athletic Events: Reasonable or Inappropriate?

Sports
Alcohol at College Athletic Events: Reasonable or Inappropriate?

Kevin Liles/USA TODAY Sports Images

Even casual sports fans are aware of the overlapping worlds of sports fandom and alcohol consumption. Almost every night and weekend afternoon, millions of sports-lovers sit in the stands or in front of their televisions cheering on their teams, with a cold beer (or similar adult beverage) in hand. And really – how many “sports coffee shops” or “sports juice bars” have you ever heard of?

On the other hand, many (if not most) Americans can appreciate the prohibition of alcohol sales at amateur sports venues. Given the problems of binge drinking and risky behaviors that are prevalent on many collegiate campuses, minimizing exposure to alcohol strikes lots of people as logical. And many colleges and universities are concerned that selling alcohol at sporting events sends a “mixed message” about the consumption of alcohol by minors.

Still, these two realities about alcohol and sports seem to be somewhat contradictory, especially when you’re talking about adults of legal drinking age. Furthermore, some people may not be aware that alcohol is already being sold at college sports events in the U.S. – and this trend is growing, not shrinking.

Can You Drink Legally at NCAA Events?

Beer-cans

NCAA rules prohibit the sale of alcohol at championship events that are overseen by the organization. But the sports governing body does not take a stance on alcohol sales at all other college-level sports, leaving those decisions up to the individual schools and/or competition organizers.

This can lead to some interesting incongruities among college athletic events. For example, AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas allows alcohol sales during all Dallas Cowboys football games, soccer matches, tractor pulls, concerts, and other events throughout the year. Adult beverages are even sold during the Cotton Bowl and other college games that are held in the stadium during the football season. But during next month’s college basketball Final Four, which is an NCAA-sanctioned championship event, fans will not be able to partake of anything alcoholic while inside the venue.

Unless you attend football games at a “wet” stadium, you may not be aware that over a fifth of all Division I schools permit alcohol sales to fans during college football games. It should be noted that about half of these booze-dispensing venues are stadiums where professional football is also played (like Raymond James Stadium for South Florida, Gillette Stadium for Massachusetts, and the Georgia Dome for Georgia State) and who have vendors in place whose contracts permit sales of beer, wine, and other spirits. Even more universities sell alcohol to fans who sit in the stadium’s luxury boxes or similar premium seating areas.

Where Can You Buy a Beer at a College Ball Game?

Mocs Beer

One of the more recent converts to alcohol sales was the University of West Virginia, who opened up the beer taps for football fans three years ago at Milan Puskar Stadium. Athletic Director Oliver Luck estimated that beer sales at Mountaineer games would generate between $500,000 and $1.2 million of additional revenue for the school. The policies surrounding beer sales are typical of those found at other schools as well as pro sports venues: no beer sales after mid-third quarter, a two-beer limit per person, and all legal liability is assumed by the concessions distributor instead of the school (And of course, exorbitantly high prices).

But football isn’t the only college sport where fans can enjoy a brewsky these days. Many college basketball venues provide fans the opportunity to consume alcohol. For instance, the Big 12 Conference Tournament decided to allow beer sales this past season to fans at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. And SMU also tapped kegs for the first time on January 4 at Moody Coliseum. In the latter case, university officials and law enforcement saw no drastic surge in alcohol-related offenses, or even in unruly behavior; despite an almost doubling in the average attendance at Mustangs’ home games (attributed more to SMU’s on-court performance rather than the availability of beer).

Why Booze? Money, Honey

IOWA TAILGATING

As you might suspect, the biggest advantage to allowing alcohol sales at NCAA venues pertains to the biggest open secret in college sports: money. Given that almost every college sport loses money (football and men’s basketball are notable exceptions), every additional dollar of revenue is treasured by an athletic department. In addition to over-the-counter sales dollars, schools can sell exclusive rights to beer companies and rake in even more cash. And since the percentage of non-students at a college football or basketball game rises with the success of the program, giving fans the option of drinking alcohol can be important to remain competitive in the entertainment marketplace of a given city or region.

But there are other reasons schools cite to support alcohol sales at sporting events. Some officials believe that alcohol availability inside the venue will reduce the incidence of binge drinking at pregame and halftime tailgate parties and surrounding bars and restaurants. As the logic goes, if people know they can drink during the game, they won’t feel the need to load up on booze before the event gets underway – or attempt to smuggle hard liquor into the venue. Others feel that alcohol prohibition borders on the hypocritical, especially if booze is provided to fans in suites and premium seats and/or the school already allows alcohol advertising on campus or at sporting events.

Not Everyone Likes Drinking and College Sports

Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports Images

Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports Images

Of course, there are those who find flaws in the arguments supporting alcohol sales at college sports events, even if these people aren’t teetotalers by nature. Naysayers may believe that many fans will tailgate regardless of whether they can buy booze inside the venue, simply because they can choose which spirits to imbibe and won’t have to worry about missing game action to stand in a concessions line. Also, many of these fans are turned off by the steep prices for beer or wine found inside stadiums and arenas and may elect to drink in the parking lot anyway. Finally, some bar owners are disconcerted about fans who get intoxicated at a college game and then walk (stagger?) directly from the sports venue into their establishments – and demand to be served even more alcohol.

Certainly, there’s no easy answer to this conundrum. Many institutions (like all California State University schools) and even a few conferences (the SEC, for one) still continue to ban alcohol sales at their sporting events. But many others may be revisiting the issue in the years to come. Fans are divided as to what the future holds for the association between NCAA sporting events and alcohol sales. Will today’s toddlers be able to fork over their money for a beer at most college football or basketball games when they turn 21? Or will legally-purchased adult beverages still be rare (or perhaps even nonexistent) inside college arenas and stadiums?

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