Think fast! Name the school that had the riot in the stands last season. The one where the media, with near unanimous conviction, blamed alcohol sales within the stadium for stoking the tension among the fans.
No such school exists. Never happened.
People are really worried about WVU selling beer at football games now and preparing for the worst, but there’s nothing out there to suggest the Mountaineers have created a monster. In fact, they’re pretty much falling in line with a lot of other schools. Not sure how that’s a bad thing these days.
Change always seems controversial around WVU and what the university, Oliver Luck and the Board of Governors proposed Friday fell right in line with that. They’re going to sell beer! No more pass-outs! No more smoking in the concourse! And with that, the propositions were, by many, chained together and dropped into the ocean of awful ideas. Never mind the public comment period the BoG created for its education and the public’s benefit.
Many others gave it thought and consideration and made peace with the propositions and the consequences, whether they liked them or not.
Fact is, it’s 2011 now and the smoking battle is losing one. For years people have complained about the smell and the litter in those concourse areas behind the seats and the plexiglass barriers where smoking was allowed. Smokers crowded close to the barrier to see the game and get their fix. The fans who are sitting in their seats in the rows right in front of that concourse and have had to deal with the smokers behind them must now be relieved.
Additionally, no one in the Big East and no one in most professional leagues allows fans to leave the stadium and return. A lot of high schools prohibit that. I’m frankly surprised it took WVU this long to adandon that practice, which was the biggest cause of the biggest gripe about the stadium crowds — if you let people out, many of them are not coming back.
And this is what caught Luck’s attention last year.
“I’ve been around a lot of stadiums and a lot of different crowds – college, professional, different sports – and the one thing that surprised me was the number of people who left at halftime,” Luck said. “It was shocking. In some cases, there were tens of thousands of people leaving at halftime and a lot of those folks were not coming back.”
Now, this is where things get weird. To maintain an audience, yet encourage reasonably rowdy behavior, WVU proposes selling beer. Right away you can see how that keeps people in their seats, especially if they’re no longer permitted to leave the stadium and return.
But how does that address fan behavior?
In short — and people here already seemed to grasp this — selling beer inside will temper some of the out-of-control tailgating outside. No need to slam three beers on the walk from the blue lot to the gate just before kickof … or the start of the second half.
Once inside and no longer able to exit the stadium and re-enter to chug a few at halftime, people will buy beer inside. That beer, though, will have a price tag and a window in which it is available, to say nothing of long lines at the concession stands, all of which will slow the consumption.
“Based on our discussion with public safety folks not only in Morgantown, but at other Big East facilities that have been serving beer for years, the main premise is that control is good,” Luck said.
“From our perspective, with eliminating the pass-out policy and offering beer sales to people who are of legal age and 21 and older, we’re controlling alcohol consumption.
“Right now, we don’t control it. It takes place outside during the game and you don’t have to go far to get to some of the tailgate spots.”
Now, this is where you go, “He’s crazy to think everyone will mind their Ps and Qs now.” You’re absolutely right. He would be crazy to think that if he actually did think that. He does not. He knows people will misbehave. He knows tailgating isn’t going anywhere. He knows people will still smuggle booze into the games. He knows a lot of people will leave to tailgate because, after all, the beer is cheaper outside. He knows, apart from Monongalia County turning into a dry county, there’s no way to turn the stands into church pews.
But no one wants that and that was never the goal upon initially investigating this initiative. WVU did its homework and talked to peer instituations and could not be discouraged from raising this divisive idea.
“What we want really is a safe, family friendly environment and still a raucous crowd that gives us a home-field advantage,” he said.
“It’s hard to bring all of that under one hat, but one of the things I did during the football season was to get the staff together and say, ‘Listen, what kind of things do you think we need to change and to look at to improve the atmosphere to make this a more family friendly place, but at the same time maintain the edge we have with our crowd?’ “
Is this a “cash grab?” I suppose, yes, but that’s not the sole intention. And WVU has plans for enhancing the concession stands and — Patchy! — a task force will meet this week to discuss short- and long-term improvements to the rest rooms. There will be money left over, though, and Luck said UConn, which uses the same concessionaire as WVU, has a $12 per capita spending figure at games. WVU’s is abut $8 lower. You consider a similarly sized jump in spending and what comes of, say, 30,000 beers sold seven times a year and the school has money it did not have.
“Any cash flow we’re able to generate will help support costs and help us set aside money for capital projects – and there are plenty on our little wish list right now,” he said. “I can guarantee you that the other schools that have been doing this – and the number is in the 30s now and rising across the NCAA – considered the revenue component.
“Every other athletic director is looking to see where he or she can improve the revenue stream. What the eventual number is, I don’t know, but what I’ve heard from everyone we’ve talked to is we should be able to generate $500,000 a year to maybe $1 million, $1.2 million, in that ballpark.”