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Universities use in-stadium alcohol to increase revenue, attendance at sporting events

In 2007, six NCAA Division I universities were struggling with lower attendance rates at sporting events, so they added a new concession item on the menu to try and combat the problem. Along with hot dogs, pretzels and tacos, attendees over the age of 21 were also able to purchase cans of beer while they rooted their teams to victory.

Now, the trend has spread to Oklahoma, with the University of Tulsa selling alcohol at games in 2015 and Oklahoma State University following suit this season. Although University of Oklahoma president David Boren said in-stadium alcohol sales will “sully the game” and he worries about “drunken fans and ugly situations,” few believe OU will really “fall behind” its DI colleagues for long.

In a time when universities are working to combat binge drinking on college campuses, and the uglier behaviors fueled by alcohol—like violence and sexual assault—are featured almost daily on every major news station in America, why would these schools play into the hypocrisy by endorsing the very beverage they are warning against at their sporting events?

“Yes, the college experience for some includes learning when to stop drinking, but does that lesson have to come with a university’s endorsement?” Berry Tramel of NewsOK said in an article in July. “On the campus of most state universities, liquor is not allowed to be sold or consumed. In places like students’ unions and football luxury suites, allowances have been granted. And in the city streets, public drinking laws are widely ignored on game days.”

This hypocrisy of schools marketing beer while, at the same time, attempting to educate its students on the dangers of drinking is not the first of its kind. Tramel reminds his readers the “football exception” has been around long before the current alcohol debate.

“But it’s hypocritical to say academics come first when football coaches make $5 million a year but professors haven’t had a raise in half a decade, and when new softball or soccer stadiums are built while the English building is circa 1948,” Tramel said. “College football has left one form of hypocrisy for another.”

Though countered by a recommendation by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism that beer and liquor not be sold at athletic events, proponents of in-stadium alcohol sales argue statistics show drunkenness has decreased in stadiums since they began serving alcohol.

Binge drinking at West Virginia University dropped 25-30 percent once they allowed alcohol in-stadium, according to Sports Illustrated, because, whereas fans once “binge-drank” before games, they can now “spread it out more, knowing they can imbibe during games.” Many universities no longer allow re-entry into stadiums so fans cannot “restock” during halftime, and also practice limiting purchases, cutting off sales in the third quarter and establishing family sections that ban alcohol.

“Binge drinking is curated,” NCAA executive and former athletic director at West Virginia Oliver Luck said. “Instead of people shotgunning beers or chugging hard liquor before a game, they don’t have to do that. They know they can buy a beer or glass of wine during the game.”

Still, the idea of selling alcohol as the means to combat binge drinking is worrisome at best, and many would claim universities have a far more monetary reason for wanting the beverages in their stadiums. Many schools are partnering with beer companies in an effort to “increase attendance at games,” with Ohio State University reportedly making more than $1.1 million in alcohol sales in its first season selling in-stadium.

In February 2016, when Texas State University began selling alcohol at softball and baseball games to determine whether the beverages should later be sold at football games, the campus newspaper, The University Star, argued there were other ways to increase revenue and attendance than the sale of alcohol in-stadium.

“If Texas State’s only purpose is to increase attendance while making a little side cash, perhaps it should allow the consumption of alcohol in the classroom,” Madison Teague argued in an opinion. “That would definitely increase attendance with no negative side effects.”

While many would say Oklahoma Christian University does not have a dog in this fight, as we do not have a football team and our Church of Christ-affiliated university would probably only allow alcohol on campus when pigs fly, the implications of in-stadium alcohol use may be closer than it appears. Our DII neighbors cannot be far behind this trend, and then what happens when it trickles down the slippery slope even more? Will Edmond parents be able to purchase alcohol at high school and middle school sporting events next?

When schools begin sponsoring and endorsing alcohol, it only teaches children drinking is the only way to have fun at an event. Instead, I say, leave alcohol for the professional sporting events, the concert venues and the restaurants—let’s keep amateur events family friendly.

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