You can’t beat a cold beer and a hot dog on game day. Following a decision by the Division I Council to allow alcohol sales at championship intercollegiate events, the NCAA and its fans will soon experience the pros and cons of welcoming alcohol to the biggest games of the season.
Out with the Old
The old rule barred alcohol sales at NCAA-sanctioned championship events–though not at regular season events if the specific university or stadium allowed it.
“Availability of Alcoholic Beverages. Alcoholic beverages shall not be sold or otherwise made available for public consumption at any championship event sponsored by or administered by the Association, nor shall any such beverages be brought to the site during the championship (during the period from the time access to the site is available to spectators until all patrons have left the facility or area used for competition)” 31.1.15.
In practice, this prohibition has served as a quasi-endorsement of alcohol-free sporting events for individual universities, who often saw it as an unnecessary liability anyway. While many schools have long-offered specific off-stadium venues, club suites, and special seating where alcohol is served, the NCAA’s rule change will likely turn the tables on how colleges treat alcohol at regular season sporting events and in general seating areas.
According to the USA Today, the move follows a two-year pilot allowing alcohol in general seating sections at the College World Series and Women’s College World Series. The new rule, an expansion of that pilot, will make alcohol available at “the Football Championship Subdivision’s championship game; at all three divisions for wrestling, men’s lacrosse championships and at men’s ice hockey and women’s volleyball championships.”
- Profit: The Division I Council wouldn’t have made the switch if it wasn’t profitable. A college isn’t officially a business, but the invisible hand of the market still applies: if its academic programs and sporting events aren’t worth their cost, students and fans will shop elsewhere. By all accounts, alcohol sales bring in additional revenue, which universities can then use to further enhance the game day experience. An analysis of the issue by Forbes magazine found that schools can expect to take in on average 22% of the revenue from alcohol sales at their events. That’s may seem like a drop in the bucket compared to the multi-million-dollar athletic program budgets, but the counter-point is that alcohol isn’t the cash-cow many people thought it was.
- The Experience: Ball games go better with beer. It’s not a scientific statement, and it’s not the official position of the NCAA, but it’s true nonetheless–and it’s part of the rationale for the policy change. Mature, of-age sports lovers have been drinking at sporting events for years. For many fans, it’s as much a part of the game-day culture as peanuts and a hot dog. Extending that privilege to the biggest sporting event of the year, the championship will be felt by many as well past due.
- Less Binge-drinking? Criminals disregard laws, and people who want to drink will disregard the rules prohibiting alcohol. It’s why pre-game binge-drinking is such as problem on campuses across the country. Like the actual Prohibition of the 1920s and ’30s, however, barring alcohol from stadiums hasn’t stopped people from bringing their own. It’s why West Virginia actually opened its facilities to beer sales with the specific goal of curbing tailgating. As a result, the school saw a 30% decrease in alcohol-related offenses as a result, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
- Crowd Control Costs: It’s hard to say whether there will be more or fewer arrests of intoxicated persons as a result of the NCAA lifting the alcohol ban. It’s slightly easier to predict that selling alcohol on premises will require an increase in ushers and security guards to maintain control in the event of a fight or other disruption. This, in turn, will cut into alcohol sale profits, but with school violence on the forefront of everyone’s minds anyway, added security may be seen as a welcomed addition.
- Drunk Fans: Prohibition or not, the unfortunate reality is that not all of-age adults are responsible. Intoxicated fans take the fun out of our favorite pastimes, and adding a beer garden to the national championship game isn’t going to help. Hopefully, though, the addition of security will help manage any increases in the number of out-of-control fans.
- Liability: Any time alcohol is served, there are legal liabilities. After the licensing and permitting and alcohol server education classes, there are still risks associating with serving people who are underage or over-serving people who are of-age. Proper training of staff and strict adherence to the alcohol server rules can mitigate the risks of municipal fines and lawsuits, but mitigation is not elimination. Fans should be cognizant of this and encourage responsible drinking.
- Price: One of the most common complaints about sporting events is the price of concessions. Unfortunately, industries play off each other, so marking up not only alcohol but water and soda by 200% or more has become the norm in movie cinemas and ballparks alike. Unless costs are offset elsewhere, such as in parking or ticket sales, this is just one of the tolls for a night out. If there’s an upside to high alcohol prices, it’s that an $8 beer will probably last longer than a $2 one.
With the decision to allow alcohol sales at championship events, the NCAA clearly believes the good outweighs the bad. Like with new found freedom, there is certain to be a case or two where someone may take things too far but as time goes on and alcohol sales at NCAA championship events become the norm, the NCAA expects good judgment to prevail.