Booze and the Ballgame

Hey, can you feel it yet? The excitement? The electricity? Yep, the college football season is just a few days away.  The arguments have already started over who's gonna be the best this year. And I've seen some of them get pretty heated. But lately, there's been a bigger argument among college football fans. And that's whether or not to sell alcohol at football games.

Now selling alcohol at college sporting events is nothing new in some parts of the country. When I attended (okay, enrolled) at Tulane University in New Orleans during the mid-’60s, vendors sold beer out of huge buckets in the stands. Plus, you could bring in as much whiskey as you could carry. Now back then, the drinking age in Louisiana was 18; however, the legislature never clarified if that was years or months. I think it was the latter, because bartenders never checked IDs. The whole time I lived there, I only saw one person refused service. And I'm pretty sure it was because his baby teeth hadn't come in yet.

Most people are aware that a number of colleges and universities have wrestled with the idea of serving alcohol at certain sporting events. What you may not know is that more than a quarter of the largest NCAA Division 1 schools already do. You see the NCAA has no problem with alcohol sales at regular season events. They leave that decision up to the individual schools. The NCAA only prohibits alcohol sales at championship events that are overseen by the organization, which makes about as much sense as everything else the NCAA does.
So why should schools consider selling alcohol in the first place? Well, officials who support the measure will give you a number of high-minded reasons, but specifically they cite that the availability of alcohol inside the stadium will reduce all that tailgating and heavy drinking before the game. Really?

Let's take a closer look at that rationale, especially when it comes to college football. First of all, nothing will ever affect the popularity of tailgating. It's been that way since the first football game was played in 1869. I guarantee you that hours before Rutgers kicked off to Princeton on that cold day in November, fans were throwing down drinks at buckboard parties. And secondly, here is one thing you will never hear anyone say when offered a beer at a tailgate party: "No thanks. I think I'll wait a few hours until the game starts so I can pay $8 for one inside."

No, the real reason that schools want to sell alcohol is money. Athletic programs need all the money they can get, because despite popular belief, most college sports lose money. Attendance is one of the reasons. Over the past few years, fans have been sticking around the tailgate parties or just staying at home because they can drink what they want and watch the football game on their 60-inch widescreens. The popularity of this new video technology wasn't lost on Jerry Jones when he built AT&T Stadium. Cowboy fans who buy tickets to a game spend most of the time watching it on that giant Jumbotron, especially if they're seated in the upper deck. They really have no choice. I was up there once and actually got a better view of the field on Google Earth.

How about giving this a try. Let people bring their drinks into the game. Maybe designate an area for them. (Preferably, close to a bathroom.) Those guys who own skyboxes already do it. Why can't the rest of us? There's a good chance it would increase attendance and revenue, mainly because all those folks that linger at tailgates or lay on the couch at the house might finally purchase a ticket to the game. They might buy popcorn and a hot dog. Maybe even a souvenir. But the best part? They might finally remember that no beverage in the world can give you as big a buzz as watching your home team win in a stadium full of people.
Of course, I don't actually think that idea's gonna fly. School officials and administrators would really frown on it..... while looking down from their private suites with open bars.
Anyway, I might see you at a game this year. My couch isn't all that comfortable anymore.

| illustration by Charles Marsh |