Texas A&M is breaking the ice, so to speak.
The school announced on Thursday that it will begin selling beer and wine in general public seating areas for home games at Kyle Field this season. That makes A&M the first Southeastern Conference school to do so.
“This is another way we are enhancing the amenities at Kyle Field,” Interim Director of Athletics R.C. Slocum said. “We are extending the availability of alcohol beyond the premium areas which have had this option for many years. Fans, 21 and older, will have the option to purchase alcohol, regardless of seating area.”
Earlier this month at the SEC Spring Meetings in Destin, Fla., the league voted to lift its long-standing ban on alcohol sales to the general public. Schools were allowed to sell alcohol in private or luxury areas of the stadium.
UK President Dr. Eli Capilouto announced that the school would study the matter before making a decision.
“The SEC has taken the right approach to this important issue by deferring to the individual, member institutions to make decisions about what is in the best interests of each university, their programs, and their fans,” Capilouto said in a news release at the time. “Led by Director (of Athletics Mitch) Barnhart, UK will take the next several months to consider this issue. We will, as always, seek to do what is right for the university, our student-athletes, and the experience and safety of our fans.”
Alabama, Auburn and Georgia have already announced that they will not sell alcohol during the 2019-20 sports season. The remaining schools have said, like Kentucky, that they are studying the matter.
“That leaves the University of South Carolina in a tough spot,” wrote Charleston Post and Courier columnist Gene Sapakoff recently. “The business of Gamecocks, Inc., is keeping up with the rest of the SEC and Gamecock Nation gets as thirsty as any fan base from College Station to Lexington.
“But South Carolina is uniquely flawed among the SEC schools considering selling beer to an audience peppered with young drinkers, many of them underage: the Gamecocks lead the league in off-campus facilities.”
Prior to the vote, I wrote that it was time for the SEC to lift the ban. Given the comforts and advantages of watching the games from home, fans need reasons to come to the stadium. Alcohol sales, done responsibly, could help in that regard.
One success story is West Virginia. Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch talked to former WVU athletic director Oliver Luck, who helped implement alcohol sales at WVU in 2011 to help with alcohol-related problems in the stadium.
“People would say, ‘Mr. Luck, you think the best way to control drinking is to offer beer during a three-hour football game?’ The answer was yes. Yes, we do,” Luck, who left WVU for an NCAA position in 2014 and now serves as commissioner of the XFL., told Matter. “It’s contrarian, but people binge drink before they go into the stadium and that’s not healthy. If they knew they could buy a 16-ounce Bud Light in the stadium, we aren’t going to eliminate binge drinking but we can certainly cut back on it.”
The moved worked. West Virginia has reported fewer alcohol incidents within the stadium. Matter reports that Missouri could follow West Virginia’s lead.