SEC needs to repeal "Gameday Prohibition" immediately
Now that the first weekend of SEC football is in the books, we should stop and lament one of the more puzzling questions that govern the largest and most powerful sports league in college athletics: why won’t SEC schools serve beer during their football games?
In 2014, SaturdayDownSouth.com’s very own S.M Oliva laid out the current landscape well.
“According to Chuck Dunlap, the SEC’s director of communications, conference policy prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages to most fans during SEC home games.
“No alcoholic beverages shall be sold or dispensed for public consumption anywhere in the facility and the possession and/or consumption of alcoholic beverages in the public areas of the facility shall be prohibited. These prohibitions shall not apply to private, leased areas in the facility or other areas designated by the SEC. There shall be no advertising displays mentioning or promoting alcoholic beverages in the facility.
“It’s not clear what would happen if any SEC member unilaterally defied the conference “policy” and started selling beer or wine to all ticket-holders (of legal drinking age, of course). The policy referenced by Dunlap does not appear in the formal SEC Constitution or Bylaws, and there’s no mention of any enforcement mechanism.”
So there is a prohibition in the SEC, but not really.
Nationally, there has been a definite trend toward serving beer during football games. Texas became the largest football program to serve beer to the masses, making them the 33rd program in the FBS to sell beer to the general public. There are 128 programs in the FBS, so the inclusion of the Longhorns means that more than a quarter of the programs in the FBS now allow it.
Only 21 serve beer at an on-campus stadium, and just four come from the Power 5 conferences. Not one SEC school is on the list of schools that sell it, though, presumably due to the imaginary ban. What does the Southeastern Conference hope to achieve by continuing “Gameday Prohibition” for the masses?
Those who oppose a change suggest that public safety is a factor. Of course, we don’t see riots breaking out during bowl games … when beer is sold, or at the 33 schools that already sell it.
Others point to the fact that it is an amateur sport. Of course, that doesn’t stop the universities from charging tens of thousands of dollars to well-heeled alumni for tickets to the amateur events.
Here are six arguments for the repeal of the “18th Amendment of Buzzkill”:
1. Alcohol is already served in the SEC, just not to the general sections.
Any argument made against serving beer (or hard alcohol, for that matter) seems awfully selective when you think about the volume of brown drink and other assorted cocktails served up in the luxury boxes at stadiums in the SEC. A luxury box is the speakeasy of Gameday Prohibition.
If alcohol is a social ill, why let the rich people do it? Do the universities of the SEC view the luxury box as a place where the wealthy are free to partake and imbibe with impunity while the unwashed rabble down in the cheap (and not so cheap) seats are limited in their choices? Are box owners and attendees more respectful, better drunks than those who sit in the stands? Are their drives home shorter, or do we believe they are chauffeured home, thus alleviating concerns over drinking and driving?
Luxury box owners are usually given a menu, liquor included, from which they can cater their game-day experience. Down in the stands, fans can choose from bottles of water or soft drinks.
The message is clear: the aristocratic high-end donor can sip away at will but those down below get the 21st century of Marie Antoinette’s famous offering: “Let them eat cake!”
I challenge anyone to offer a cogent argument as to why it is acceptable for one block of fans to drink bourbon, scotch, vodka and tequila but not acceptable for fans in the cheap seats to suck down a few cool Bud Lights during a hot game.
2. Alcohol is currently a HUGE part of the SEC game-day experience.
If you believe that alcohol is not already a part of the tailgating experience, you’re crazy. Throughout the Southeast, tens of millions of dollars are spent annually on extravagant tailgates. RVs stroll in the night before and when the sun breaks in the morning, you’ll see people setting up TVs, grills, seating arrangements and, you guessed it, coolers full of the hard stuff.
Beer funnels, keg stands, shooters … you know the drill. But then, for those not sitting in the boxes, you enter the game and stop.
Is it a reasonable question to ask whether this system incentivizes binge drinking?
If people knew they could continue drinking throughout the game, would they adjust and pace themselves?
Now, do fans who wish to partake in mass alcohol assumption on game day cram so much alcohol in themselves before the game that by the second quarter they are huddled over in a pool of vomit?
If you’ve attended a game in the SEC in, say, the last 30 years, you know the folks I’m talking about.
College towns throughout the SEC already have a separate and distinct set of rules for alcohol and college football. Don’t believe me? Set up a keg in the middle of the O’Connell Center parking lot in Gainesville on a Tuesday, or line up shooters in the Grove in Oxford on a Monday and see what happens.
Alcohol is as much a part of the college football experience in the South as wine is the Napa Valley experience, and there’s a good argument that the current policies of the SEC are doing as much damage as they are good.
3. “Gameday Prohibition” bootlegging is alive and well.
The real prohibition had Al Capone; Gameday Prohibition has the floppy flask.
For those wishing to disregard the university policy on “no alcohol,” there are plenty of choices. A search of only Amazon.com gives an inkling of the wide array of bootlegging options to the Fall Saturday smuggler:
- Flasks that look like sunscreen.
- Floppy flasks.
- Flasks that look like tampons.
- Flasks that look like sports bras.
- Flasks that look like an iPhone.
- Flasks that look like binoculars.
- Flasks that look like a wallet.
- And then, there’s my personal favorite, the guy who wants to crowd fund the creation of the “Fake Baby” flask.
You get my point.
There are many options for smugglers wishing to get booze into a stadium, meaning the odds are really good that there is alcohol being consumed despite the rules.
Changing the rules to reflect behavior creates a structure that allows for greater safety, increased tax revenues and…
4. Sale of beer during the game would generate much needed revenue for the sports programs that DON’T generate enough revenue to be self-sustaining.
College football may be an amateur sport, but it’s a big business. Athletic programs often rely on revenue – generated by TV, ticket sales and in-stadium sales – to pay for sports that don’t have such a national following. A good football team doesn’t just pay for itself, it pays for a whole host of other programs for athletes who are also fulfilling their dreams. Changes in the college football payout structure have endangered many of those sports.
The Orlando Sentinel reported that schools like UCF experienced a 45 percent drop in general revenue as a result of the new playoff structure. The Sentinel also quoted former West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, who says that WVU made a net profit of $750,000 from their decision to sell beer.
There is every reason to believe the rowdy crowds of the SEC would generate even more revenue to support the other programs, which should ostensibly make the SEC better top to bottom than it already is.
5. Serving alcohol could reverse the troubling trend of declining attendance.
It is clear to anyone that watches that the crowds have dwindled across college football, and the SEC is not immune to these realities. Declining attendance late in the game has been an ongoing problem as well, even prompting a scolding a few years back from Nick Saban himself.
We live in a time of unprecedented convenience. A fan has two choices:
- Shell out thousands of dollars in donations to purchase seats, drive to the game, tailgate, attend the game, rent a hotel room and then drive home the next day.
- Watch the football in your air conditioning on a 70-, 80- or 90-inch high definition, $4,000 TV in the comfort of your own home, skip the drive and sleep in your own bed.
Long gone are the days of fuzzy box TV sets with rabbit-ear antennae and channel offerings in the single digits. Odds are good that most boosters and students have access to multiple options to watch the game both at home and at a series of local sports bars, and we can’t assume that the demand for pricey seats is immune to economic realities.
Fans that don’t want to drink alcohol won’t drink alcohol. Fans that want to drink alcohol at sporting events will have the option to drink, and this just might return some fans into the stands and keep them there the whole game.
6) Mega-leagues like the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and Major League Soccer wouldn’t sell alcohol at sporting events if there was a demonstrated negative outcome in serving it.
As sports fans, we view our teams passionately. In the professional ranks, they are big businesses. Forbes estimates the value of the Dallas Cowboys franchise at $3.2 billion.
If any of the premier sports leagues saw a decidedly negative outcome from serving alcohol, it’s a safe bet to say they wouldn’t serve it. If it led to violence or carnage or rioting, they would be sued time and time again until it wasn’t profitable. That isn’t the case. Trial lawyers love a deep-pocketed defendant, and sports teams fit that billing perfectly.
Risk-managers for these leagues establish policies, like cut-off times during the game when alcohol is no longer available, and have trained security personnel who identify problem attendees. There is no reason college football, and the Southeastern Conference, can’t do the same.
So that’s that. Six reasons why the SEC must stop its unofficial Gameday Prohibition and give the fans what they want.
You may ask why I don’t advocate for serving all different types of alcohol at games. I do. But incremental change is easier than widespread change, and a track record of positive impact will likely change the attitudes of those who currently oppose it. If the sky doesn’t fall, if revenues increase and there is no widespread mayhem, the powers-that-be will be more open to having a full bar on Saturdays down South.