How Necessary Are Alcohol Sales at College Football Games?


I write this commentary on alcohol sales at college football games on a picturesque, California Saturday. It’s just below 80 degrees, perfect to drink a beer on the beach. The only problem: alcohol of any kind is banned on the beaches of Southern California, the local municipalities’ response to beachgoers getting wasted and acting the fool.

Mind you, it’s not impossible to have a beach beer. Alumni water bottles make for a discreet container to hide a drink. However, it’s just that: one drink. It’s not a cooler stocked with booze.

This clandestine manner of enjoying a beer along the Pacific Ocean is reminiscent of ways in which…people I know of *cough*…smuggled alcohol into college football games during my undergrad days. A flask could be concealed in the waistband of a pair of pants and nursed over the course of a 3-plus-hour game, but it was just that: nursed.

My foremost concern with alcohol sales at college football games is inviting overconsumption among a demographic already susceptible to imbibing perhaps a bit too heavily. The tailgate is a fundamental part of the college gameday experience, and for undergrads, it’s typically an occasion that calls for some day-drinking.

Anyone who’s indulged excessive during the day knows that can often be a recipe for disaster, simply because it allows more time for more drinking. The transition from tailgate to stadium — part of the gameday rite of passage — is also a much-needed drying-out period.

Alcohol sales invite continued indulgence, over the course of three more quarters no less. Assuming the average time spent at a tailgate is two hours, that can turn into an awful lot of boozing.

Meanwhile, booze and hard feelings mix as well as automobiles and Michael Bay movies. With both, something is going to blow up.

That formula is the chief thing keeping me away from NFL games. I have never once in my life attended an NFL game as a fan, and not seen at least one fist fight.

Maybe it’s unfair to blame alcohol, but I can 100 percent attribute seeing two Arizona Cardinals fans — supporters of the same team! — get into a drunken melee after a game in 2008 that ended with the duo crashing into and knocking over a (thankfully empty) port-a-john.

Given my experiences at NFL games, where fans start the party pregame and keep poundin’ away on $12 Budweisers for three quarters, I’d rather not encourage college football fans reenact the tailgate scene from Silver Linings Playbook.

From another perspective, alcohol sales are permitted at some college games already without drunken revelers tearing the stadiums to pieces. San Diego State, for example, plays just off campus at Qualcomm Stadium.

The unavoidable fan violence of Chargers games isn’t exactly a problem at Aztecs games. Moreover, for some programs, selling beer or wine helps attract fans.

I certainly understand why it’s done in these cases. The primary motivator is the same driving virtually any decision made in college sports anymore: grow revenue.

Wake Forest is entering its seventh year since its last bowl game. It’s probably no coincidence Demon Deacons home games will have beer sales, offering fans an additional reason to come out while head coach Dave Clawson rebuilds.

Maryland is also among the athletic departments considering allowing alcohol sales at both football and basketball games. But then, this begs another question: How much does a football program new to one of the most intriguing divisions in college football — the Big Ten East — or a basketball team that could open next season ranked No. 1 need booze to drive fan interest?

Texas selling alcohol at Longhorns football game is especially confounding in this regard. Often ranked near, if not at the top of Forbes‘ annual breakdown of most profitable football programs, Texas isn’t desperate for whatever extra revenue might come from beer sales.

And, because it’s Texas, the athletic department doesn’t need the same additional allure a smaller program like San Diego State might offer fans.

This purely business decision fits well within the narrative Chip Brown painted of athletic director Steve Patterson earlier this week for Patterson comes off more as a CEO than the leader of one of the most tradition-steeped athletic programs in America.

We saw how well that style worked for former Dominos bigwig Dave Brandon at the University of Michigan, who tried his own tweaks to “the gameday experience.”

When it comes to college football, the most alluring gameday experience is a winning on-field product. Texas A&M, which has been more successful than its rival Texas since leaving for the SEC, tweaked the Longhorns this week via chancellor John Sharp.

Personally, the ideal gameday experience for me is less like the NFL and more like my local beach. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an aluminum water bottle to fill.