Maybe It is Time for Last Call at the Bar
Those colleges and universities playing Division I sports walk a fine line in dealing with the issue of alcohol consumption. Many schools around the country are now facing up to the fact that some of their students have issues with the use of alcohol products. Schools as diverse as Texas Tech, Wisconsin and Alabama have in the past few years developed on campus counseling programs to deal with the abuse of alcohol by students
These schools at the same time are trying to cater to their fan bases who frequently view college sporting events, especially football Saturdays, as major social events where the use of alcohol products is considered to be an integral part of the game day experience.
At the University of Missouri tailgaters openly drink in campus parking lots while advertisements for Anheiser Busch products are aired during games on the school’s statewide radio network and displayed on the Memorial Stadium scoreboard. The back cover of Missouri’s football programs features an ad touting the “FAVORITE BEER OF TIGER FANS”, advertising Bud Lite.
Scores of schools around the country allow persons renting luxury suites to bring alcohol products into their suites and even provide wet bars as part of the suite furnishings. Some 20 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools sell alcohol to the public inside their stadiums. Many schools no longer allow fans with tickets to leave and re-enter stadiums, thus cutting off an avenue for fans to go outside of stadiums to drink and then come back inside.
While most stadiums have security crews that check bags of fans entering the stadium for items such as alcohol, stadiums typically do not do pat down searches of fans. At the University of Georgia fans frequently smuggle alcohol into Sanford Stadium by using male fans who hide miniature bottles of alcohol inside the pockets of their pants and coats. Anyone who has attended a college football game at a major school can attest to the presence of fans obviously under the influence of alcohol. Fans can frequently be seen pouring the contents of very small bottles into their drink cups.
At Missouri a campus-wide conversation does go on about seeming inconsistencies in alcohol policies. The school acquired a state pouring license in 2009 to allow alcohol in its newly built luxury suites at Memorial Stadium; but nixed the idea of actually selling beer in the stadium. Yet alcohol products are advertised inside the stadium as well as on the program. The Anheiser Busch brewing company has given the university millions of dollars over the years; in fact an academic building on campus bears the name of the brewing company.
At the same time in 2009 the NCAA and the school’s athletic department donated $30,000 to the school’s Wellness Resource Center to fund a campaign to change the culture of drinking that surrounds tailgating. Some wonder about the mixed messages being sent.
Brewers always fall back on a standard response when questioned about the wisdom of promoting alcohol consumption on college campuses. When Missouri was dealing with questions of how far to go in allowing beer to be promoted Anheiser Busch’s Regional Vice President, Bill Jones issued the following statement, “We brew our beer to be enjoyed responsibly by adults, regardless of the setting”.
The fact is 20 FBS schools currently allow the sale of beer inside their stadiums. The following FBS schools currently are on this list: Bowling Green*, Cincinnati*, Colorado State, Connecticut, Hawaii, Houston*, Kent State*, Louisiana-Lafayette*, Louisville*, Miami, Memphis, Nevada*, Nevada-Las Vegas, Rice*, San Diego State, South Florida, Syracuse*, Temple, Tulane and West Virginia
*On-campus facility (Source: Des Moines Register)
Of 24 schools currently in the realigned Southeastern and Big 12 Conferences a total of 23 allow alcohol or images of alcohol to be present in some form inside their stadiums or on their syndicated radio broadcasts.
It was only one week ago that Missouri’s head football coach, Gary Pinkel, was arrested and charged with DUI (he since has pleaded guilty to the charge). Pinkel was suspended for one week with loss of pay and had other sanctions invoked; but this is obviously another awkward moment for that school in its relationship with alcohol.
The reality is that West Virginia Athletic Director Oliver Luck summed up the real reason why schools have business relationships with companies that produce and market alcohol products. When asked about mixed messages being sent by his school that now sells beer inside its on campus stadium Luck replied that the answer was simple—the school will earn some $1 million this year from those sales.
College officials may extol the virtues of amateur sports and the ideal of the student-athlete. Like anything else, however, the presence of alcohol in various contexts related to college sports is due to the ability of alcohol products to produce money for schools.
Parents may be just as much a part of the problem as any student. Many, if not most, of the fans consuming alcohol inside and around college stadiums are adults well over the traditional age of college students. Many people simply feel that the use of alcohol products is part of the overall experience. There is a kind of attitude that says, “I drank when I was in school and those were great times”.
As part of its campaign to make its students aware of the dangers of alcohol abuse the University of Alabama sets up a tailgating tent on its Main Quad on game days that is designated as an alcohol-free zone. In addition to providing food and non-alcoholic beverages counselors are present and literature is passed out. There have been some reports of people nearby heckling those at this tent as other nearby groups busily drink beer and other alcoholic beverages.
It should be noted that college officials have argued that by controlling the location of alcohol consumption surrounding campus sporting events they can help detect and prevent problems associated with the over-consumption of alcohol. Oliver Luck of West Virginia has used the analogy of firefighters bringing a fire under control by deliberately setting backfires designed to help take fuel away from the main blaze.
There is no denying that drinking alcohol is an ingrained part of the sociology of sport in this country. There certainly are inconsistencies in the approach of colleges and universities. Then there is the NCAA, which prohibits any signage advertising alcohol products from being visible at any venue hosting post-season play; yet allows its broadcast partners to advertise alcohol products on their telecasts of these events.
It is difficult to define the proper line between perception and reality. As long as there is a profit to be made, however, it looks like there will always be time for one more round of drinks at college sporting events.
Readers, let us know how you feel about the presence and sale of alcohol products at college sporting events.