College Football Dry Campuses: A good idea?

Editor’s Note: The following has been supplied by Daniel Matthews, a contributor at Last Word On Sports.

College Football Dry Campuses—NCAA toys with dry campus policies

In 2010, tailgaters at my alma mater, Boise State University, were in for a rude awakening. Police making their way through the parking lot full of orange and blue BSU colors issued a total of 142 citations for alcohol-related, tailgating offenses.

I wouldn’t blame you for calling the barrage of ticketing “opportunistic”. It was Boise State’s homecoming game against Toledo. Law-breaking fans were sure to be out in droves. What’s that old phrase? Oh yeah. For police, catching fans and students drinking was like shooting fish in a barrel.

The not-so-dry campus

Boise State is a dry campus, which extends to the on-campus football stadium. But over the last couple years the university has amended that rule in several ways.

Why? A dry football campus achieved the same results as prohibition. The 18th Amendment to ban alcohol was one of the most violated laws ever, a time when hardware stores sold bootlegging supplies and the author of the amendment, Senator Morris Sheppard, was caught distilling 130 gallons of whiskey per day—after prohibition started.

Just like in the prohibition days, Boise State’s dry campus never really kept people from drinking on-campus. Especially at football games. According to Police Lieutenant Tony Plott, “The campus rules say that this is an alcohol-free campus but in the tailgating situation, as long as people don’t have a keg or can of beer, the campus has a relaxed stance on what they’re going to allow on game day.”

That was back in 2010. Since then, Boise State has set aside an area for tailgating, where people don’t have to hide their beer in a cup. And, they now allow people to buy beer and wine in a facility next to the stadium called the Caven-Williams Sports Complex, until the game starts.

College football and drinking have a sordid relationship. Boise State could serve as a case-study. Once you allow drinking outside of the stadium, why not sell alcohol nearby to make a little extra money? The BSU dry-campus policy is now a hybrid policy, in which you can drink on-campus as long as it’s before a game. How long until this applies to every sporting event on campus?

In-stadium alcohol

The final piece of the drinking puzzle would be to sell alcohol in the stadium. According to The Sport Journal, 75 percent of Division I schools don’t sell beer in stadiums, while the other 25 percent do. In 2004, 10 schools tended bar in-stadium; in 2014, 32 schools did. That number will continue to rise.

The argument against selling beer in-stadium goes something like this. ‘We don’t want to promote drinking at an event already rowdy and violent to begin with, and there’s too much risk minors will get their hands on alcohol. Because games cost less than professional events and involve younger players, college games are family events, and selling alcohol at them promotes drinking to children.’ Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is particularly vocal on the subject. Detractors also point to the 8,000 fans ejected from NFL games in 2013.

Advocates for in-stadium beer sales point to a number of factors.

  • Money

Between 2004 and 2008, college spending on sports went up 10 percent more than revenue. Lack of adequate revenue caused the University of Alabama Birmingham to halt its football program in 2014. Alcohol concessions raised “no less than $516,000” for West Virginia since they began selling beer in 2011. Alcohol sales are a viable way to raise funds as football expenses increase for colleges.

  • Enjoyment

There’s something to be said for the responsible fan who merely wants to enjoy a beer and watch the game. The irresponsible actions of binge-drinkers are more due to tailgating and sneaking in liquor than buying a few expensive beers during the game. Why should the irresponsible actions of a minority limit enjoyment for responsible drinkers?

  •  Student Attendance

Let’s face it, college students like to drink. Since 2007, student attendance at football games has gone down 7.1 percent. Allowing alcohol in-stadium could ramp up attendance for of-age students, who right now are faced with higher ticket prices, the lure of TV, and competition from other entertainment events.

  • Binge-drinking

If they’re allowed to buy alcohol during the game, less people are likely to binge-drink before the game. Again, it’s tough to want to binge on expensive beers in-stadium, if not well-nigh impossible because of lines. According to ESPN, in the case of West Virginia, “Campus police report that alcohol-related incidents at Mountaineer Field have declined sharply (since in-stadium alcohol was introduced).”

  • Market expansion

Jaimy Ford points out, “Diversifying your customer base—that is, doing what it takes to attract a new kind of buyer—makes you more resilient and profitable.” Resilience is what college football clubs need. Since games compete with other events that do offer alcohol, many teams may need to go beyond the alumni fan-base and appeal to casual fans who are used to buying alcohol at events.

  • Culture

If wineries, craft breweries, and drinking are part of a regional culture, universities are more likely to allow a corresponding alcohol presence at games. Culture determines the norm, as is the case with University of Nevada in Reno, where alcohol sales at Mackay Stadium parallel the 24/7 flow of alcohol at casinos.

Ultimately, the bottom line will continue to see colleges and universities opening up taps to generate more revenue. As long as institutions have well-enforced boundaries, such as alcohol-free family zones and strict carding/wristband enforcement, this should work well. Some schools will never allow in-stadium drinking. For the ones who do, we’ll see how it plays out as the 2015 season continues.

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