ON WEDNESDAY, the University of Texas announced it will begin selling beer and wine at Darrell K. Royal Stadium this fall. The Longhorns aren’t the first school to open the tap.
Louisville, SMU, Colorado State and more than 30 other schools did it last year, but Texas is a needle-mover in college athletics. The Longhorns’ lap in this fermented pool will cause a lot of schools to at least dip their toe in and check the temperature.
South Carolina and the rest of the Southeastern Conference schools should not be among them. Currently, the SEC has a policy forbidding alcohol sales in the public areas of its stadiums, and there’s no need to revisit it.
Texas is doing it for the same reason college athletic departments do a lot of the things they do – money. An ESPN.com analysis found that West Virginia has earned at least half a million each of the past four years from alcohol sales in its stadiums.
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Beer sales are big in the Sun Belt, where five schools sold it last year to help them cover the expenses of running an athletics department. Unlike Troy, Texas doesn’t need the money. The Longhorns had the nation’s richest athletic department two years ago with $165.7 million in revenue.
SEC schools don’t need the money either, but that doesn’t mean some won’t want it, and if you’re trying to talk yourself into making this decision, there are some handy arguments to toss about.
First, there’s the fact that West Virginia officials say they have had fewer alcohol-related incidents at their stadium since allowing beer to be sold inside. The important piece of the argument being left out there is that West Virginia banned re-entry into the stadium at the same time it allowed beer sales so fans were no longer allowed to make unlimited trips back to their tailgate spot during games, and we all know they weren’t going out there to chug another plate of nachos.
Second, students already are drinking at games, so you’re not really changing the culture of the student section by allowing beer to be sold. There’s a difference, though, between students sneaking in a limited quality of alcohol that often is shared among a group and every person in the student section having a drink in both hands throughout the afternoon. (Seriously, you might as well not pass out the white towels for Sandstorm because no one will have a free hand.) Besides, at least now they have to work for it. Some of these folks should get engineering credits for their smuggling devices.
Finally, there’s the growing battle all sports are fighting against the living room. As ticket prices and television clarity and accessibility rise at similarly startling rates, it’s becoming more tempting for fans to stay home instead of buying the tickets that are the lifeblood of most athletics departments. Offering beer and wine at the game is taking away one of the biggest tactical advantage the fan’s house has in this fight.
All these arguments are compelling in their own way, but not compelling enough weighed against the obvious risks adding alcohol involves.
Texas says its “extensive pilot program revealed positive results.” That “pilot program” involved selling alcohol at basketball, baseball and softball games last year. It’s an absurdly self-serving argument. There is no comparison between a college basketball, baseball or softball game and a major college football game. They probably don’t have any parking problems at the softball games, but you add 89,000 people who are on edge because they haven’t beaten their rival in three seasons and the offensive coordinator won’t run the dang ball and the dynamic changes a bit.
Also, what rises to the level of “incident”? Do 15 people have to brawl or some poor sap have to fall out of the top deck before it counts? How many kids’ and parents’ afternoons are going to be ruined because that nice man who sits next to them on Saturday talks like a sailor as soon as he has couple beers? It’s not something most people are going to report to the cops, but you better believe it will be a factor when mama decides if the kids can go to the next game.
(If it helps athletics directors who are making the decisions to think of “kids” as “future donors,” so be it.)
“Fan safety and enjoyment remains our No. 1 priority as we work through the process of expanding beer and wine sales into all seating areas of the stadium,” Texas athletics director Steve Patterson said in a statement released by the school.
That’s a tough statement to defend. There is no way serving alcohol at a sporting event makes it safer. Fans who want to enjoy a few drinks have 20 more hours in the day to do it.
At the SEC’s spring meetings earlier this month in Florida, outgoing commissioner Mike Slive was resolute in explaining the dramatic increase in fines for rushing the field or court in league games.
“When people and students rush the field, we are concerned about health and safety?” Slive said.
The leagueneeds to continue to worry about their health and safety in their seats and keep alcohol out of the public areas of its stadiums. The Longhorns should rethink their decision, too. Either that or add a 30-minute daily program to the Longhorn Network called “DKR Cops” filmed entirely on game days. Maybe then somebody would watch it.