The math of selling beer at college football games is pretty simple.
In an era of seven-figure coaching salaries and demands for more resources for athletes, universities are always looking for ways to increase revenue. But college football is also eager to keep up attendance, which averaged 44,190 last season, the lowest figure since at least 2003, according to the N.C.A.A. In the era of high-definition home televisions, fan experience is the focus of many athletic directors’ offices.
In that environment, alcohol sales are a moneymaker. West Virginia’s athletic director, Shane Lyons, said last month that “approximately $500,000 a year just in beer comes back to us.”
Not only is that nothing to sneer at, it’s enough to overcome certain squeamish qualms.
“I feel like we’ve been a pilot program — people have seen it work,” West Virginia’s Lyons said, noting that Maryland and Texas had contacted West Virginia for advice before deciding to begin beer sales this fall.
Not everyone is comfortable. West Virginia’s president, E. Gordon Gee, who as a Mormon does not drink, said he was reluctant to maintain the policy when he returned to the university last year but was persuaded to do so by the Board of Governors.
“I’m sometimes conflicted about it,” he said, “because I do believe one of the main issues confronting universities is alcohol abuse — binge drinking.”
And the decision to sell beer in the stadium will have such an impact on that. Like another policy in fact does.
At West Virginia, the introduction of general-admission alcohol sales was paired with the elimination of so-called passouts. Though the term is not a deliberate pun, passouts — which allowed fans to leave and re-enter the stadium during Mountaineers games — contributed to binge drinking in the parking lots at halftime.
“I used to park my motor home outside the stadium,” Jay Gerber, 65, said as he stood at his seat near the 50-yard line. “Was nice to come and go.”
His bathroom was probably easier to access, too.
There is a certain hypocrisy to allowing alcohol to be consumed in the well-heeled section of the stadium – one of the perks, ‘ya know – and denying it to the rest of the season ticket holders. But buried in the article is the most hilarious defense of the practice you’ll ever see.
“Whether it’s alcohol or any other improvements,” she said, “it’s important to keep some of what people love about college and not make it a mini-N.F.L.”
Heavens to Betsy, not that! Get thee away, demon alcohol!