Why Are More Colleges Starting to Sell Beer at Football Games?

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Did you know that institutions of higher learning have a complicated relationship with alcoholic beverages? It’s true — and the shocking news about beer sales at college football games don’t have anything to do with the statistics around what constitutes binge-drinking, or the complicated waltz that is intoxication and social interaction, but the simple fact that very few schools allow sanctioned boozing inside the stadiums, leaving tailgaters high and dry once they actually make it inside the venue. To put a number on it, this year there will be 21 universities and colleges that will have beer on tap (and in cans, we assume) for anyone who’s old enough to buy them.

Just 21 schools, despite the fact that the NCAA is made up of nearly 1,300 different members. While rowdy behavior has been one explanation for the limited capacity to grab a drink onsite at a CFB game, the typical work-around for the drinking fan has been to drink as many beers as possible before entering the game, which would, potentially, lead to some decidedly intoxicated behavior anyway. While the NCAA as a whole tends to try and avoid words like ‘responsibility’ and ‘culpability’ as often as possible, West Virginia, who started selling alcohol at games in 2011, has seen a notable decline in what ESPN calls ‘alcohol-related incidents’ since adopting the policy.

Beer revenue is a dependable, profitable source of revenue, especially for programs that sit outside the largest conferences that aren’t privy to the kinds of television deals that, say, the SEC (which doesn’t allow alcohol in its seats as a conference) can wrangle. Troy University’s athletic director, John Hartwell, told ESPN that the school expected its portion of profits from alcohol sales to be around $200,000, and that, “That’s more impactful to a bottom line for a Troy than it is for a Texas or West Virginia or institutions similar to that,” remarking on the budget disparity between the Division-I schools.

J. Wilds/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

While the evidence is there that offering fans an opportunity to purchase an adult beverage can bring more fans out to games, rather than watching them settle for a sports bar or the living room, many institutions remain opposed to the idea — although it seems to suggest an ideological difference, probably couched in the security of an expansive budget and massive crowds. One AD brought up the idea of “keeping the civility” to ESPN, a statement that seems nothing less than entirely laughable.

There’s nothing about sports fandom that’s civil. In fact, the whole idea of irrationally supporting a team for what are, arguably, the most superficial of reasons, would seem to fly in the fact of that assessment. Are some sports fans utterly obnoxious and irritating when they get hammered? Of course, but those fans seem to share that quality regardless of sobriety. It’s part and parcel of dealing with college sports, and the pro-beer sales community seem to be happy to bring the tailgate inside their doors, rather than watching people puke in the parking lot.