The latest debate/trend/question in college athletics isn’t about the product on the field, but whether a certain product should be allowed in the stands.
Beer is on tap at many college football venues all over the country, and the number of stadiums allowing it continues to grow. If you go back to 2009, there were fewer than 20 schools selling beer to the masses at their football games. Heading into last season, 52 out of 129 FBS programs have turned on the taps at either on or off-campus venues, according to various media reports. Several others have announced they are jumping on the bandwagon, and even several FCS schools are following suit.
Missouri Valley member Illinois State recently announced it will allow beer and wine sales at public concession stands in general seating areas at Hancock Stadium, joining Youngstown State as the two conference schools that have made it available. Others like the University of South Dakota and Indiana State have made it available in specific club areas or suites, but not in the general areas. North Dakota State has explored beer gardens in its venue at the Fargodome, but hasn’t moved forward with any plans yet. It would be seamless if (or when) the Powers That Be decide to pull the trigger, as beer is served for many other events at the dome already, including concerts, rodeos, etc.
I suspect it will only be a matter of time before beer, wine and liquor is commonplace in stadiums across the nation, whether it is on or off campus. Some conferences had bans on beer and alcohol sales, but those are going away, too. In May, the SEC decided it would no longer prohibit its member schools to sell it, and one would have to think many of those institutions won’t be able to resist the dollars that would generate.
The hesitations for some universities to move forward with beer and/or liquor sales are understandable. They certainly don’t want to sell a product that most of its student body can’t legally purchase, and they clearly want to be mindful of creating an atmosphere that can get out of control.
With that all being said, there are plenty of reasons why it makes sense for venues to take this step forward and allow it. Beer is already getting consumed in tailgate lots, and at times, people will binge because they know it won’t be available during the game. It may help get more people inside the stadium instead of continuing to enjoy libations in the parking lot after kickoff, and it may be easier to monitor and control it as well.
Moreover, as for whether this sends the right message to students, it is important to remember that a significant number (I estimate at least 80%-90%) of fans in attendance are not undergraduates. Student attendance continues to drop at many universities for athletic events, so you could argue it might be more important to cater to those who are consistently coming out to support your team.
Besides, there are plenty of fans who are obnoxious without beer, anyway.