In the South, college football is a way of life. Southern Methodist University (SMU) is no different. This fall, however, SMU fans will have a very rare opportunity at their home stadium: they can buy a beer.
Right now, the NCAA does not permit any alcohol at championship tournament events. In most conferences, however, alcohol sales are determined by the school. Most universities are wary of selling alcohol at sporting events because they are often considered family affairs, and most of the students in the crowd (and the athletes on the field) are underage. The SEC, the king of college football, has a league-wide ban on alcohol within the stadium.
More schools are giving it a try, however. SMU ran a trial during basketball season, serving beer and wine at twelve home games. They netted into the six figures. Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock told USA Today that while his current school does not sell alcohol, he has seen it done in a responsible way at his previous institution, Cincinnati.
At Virginia Tech, alcohol is only sold in the luxury suites at football games. At Cincinnati, beer was sold at all home games. Babcock notes, "In my two and a half years there, we didn't have any alcohol-related incidents, so it worked. It opened my eyes that it could be done in a responsible way."
However, alcohol sales can not help generate revenue, they can actually help to calm crazed fans. For many fans, a typical college game day starts at 8 a.m. and is an all-day affair. (I grew up on the University of Kentucky campus, what we lack in football skills, we make up for in bourbon.) The drinking is heavy, and games often don't begin until the afternoon, meaning that fans are very intoxicated by the time the festivities really begin. Tailgating can go too far, because fans know alcohol is not allowed within the stadium.
When they know they can still buy alcohol at the game, fans drink less before the game. They can actually have breakfast, not Jell-O shots, in the early morning because they know there will not be cut off by game time. In West Virginia, the addition of beer sales during football games in 2011 actually led to less drunkenness overall. At SMU, during the trial period, they did not have any alcohol-related arrests.
Selling alcohol at the games also helps promote the sport to more casual fans, who visit for fun, rather than as die hard fans or students. They can grab a cheap seat and a beer, much as they would at an NFL game. SMU athletic director Rick Hart "repeatedly heard the expectation from new or casual fans that a night on the town – whether to a sporting event, a play or something else – would include the opportunity to buy beer and wine."
While this will certainly benefit SMU — less rowdy fans, more profits, new customers — the implementation was extremely detailed and serious. The sale of beer and wine was approved by the school's board, student affairs office, and student leaders. After that, a very careful alcohol sales program was created to prevent underage drinking. Students over 21 receive a wristband with three pull tabs on it. Non-students receive only one pull tab. Buy a beer, take off a tab. This limits binge drinking within the stadium.
Right about now, Budweiser is at the edge of their seats, waiting to hop on the opportunity for advertising sales at College GameDay. But they might be waiting for quite a while, especially when it comes to the largest (and potentially most lucrative) conference: the SEC. Alabama athletics director told USA Today, "Primarily economics would drive it. The disadvantages are security and fan behavior and other things that go with that. And so it's a trade-off. It is done successfully in places throughout the country. We're in the Bible Belt; we may not be the first ones to do that. But certainly we would consider it. Whether we do it or not, I don't know."
Of course, if the SEC never changes their prohibition, students should be getting a brand new way to sneak liquor into stadiums soon, in the form of Palcohol.