Alcohol: Coming soon to a college football stadium near you
Though attendance is down across college football stadiums nationwide, alcohol sales are only increasing and likely to continue trending that way
OMAHA, Neb. -- Booze is trending in the NCAA.
You need only to check here Monday night at Game 1 of the College World Series championship series. For the first time, NCAA-sanctioned beer and wine are being sold at the CWS. That was after both were made available during a similar pilot program at the Women's College World Series earlier this month.
This fall, approximately 40 schools will offer beer (at least) to the general public at their college football stadiums. Several more schools are considering joining the party. No matter what your opinion, some sort of ethical boundary has been crossed.
Let's not forget half of the key demographic in this discussion is underage. Alcohol now seems destined to be not only a staple at college events, but in some cases, endorsed heartily by the NCAA.
"For Chrissakes, it's legal to buy pot in Colorado," said Chuck Neinas, the 84-year-old former NCAA administrator who once banned beer sales at the CWS in 1964.
Using that logic, sure, it's OK. Social mores have changed. Why not enjoy a cold beer on a hot summer day?
"I'm not sure anybody felt we had to go there," said Ron Prettyman, the NCAA's managing director of championships and alliances, who is the man currently in charge of the CWS.
"But it's something we heard for many, many years. Our fan support group in Omaha, year after year, said it was something they were interested in."
The people may have spoken. But the NCAA hasn't spoken to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). So said Colleen Sheehey-Church, the organization's president.
"We do have a reaction," Sheehey-Church told CBS Sports. "It's part of our mission statement. We want to prevent underage drinking. MADD discourages the service of alcohol at a college game-day event.
"We absolutely know the minimum drinking age is 21 and most of the people there are going to be under 21."
That, one NCAA official told CBS Sports, is a legitimate concern.
Pull up a (bar) stool. We may have reached a sensitive intersection between preachy and pilsner.
"I think it's just a philosophy change," said West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons. West Virginia may have begun the current trend in 2011 by offering alcohol inside Milan Puskar Stadium to cut down on binge drinking outside of it.
Until that point, there were a smattering of schools that offered alcohol in stadiums and arenas -- particularly in municipal venues run by cities.
"We all saw it," Lyons said. "You see it in pro sports. They control it. People are staying at home, watching on TV, having a cold beer. Now you're hearing, 'I want to come [to the game] and have a cold beer.'"
For the first time, the NCAA and (some) schools aren't shying away from that rationale. They own the fact that alcohol sales produce more revenue. West Virginia reportedly made about $600,000 from beer and wine sales at football games last season.
Texas was able to reap $1.8 million. Minnesota actually lost money in its first year of alcohol sales in 2012.
In each case, though, the revenue produced is minuscule to the overall athletic budget. Still, the trend is growing. At least 36 schools will sell alcohol throughout the entire stadium in 2016. That's more than a quarter of FBS.
"We're not talking about life-changing money," said Kristi Dosh, a sports business contributor to Forbes. "But expenses have gone up."
The NCAA announced in January the pilot programs in baseball and softball. Give the people what they want? The association might want to get its arms around the concussion issue before it opens up another possible liability issue.
Plus, it's a bit hypocritical for any school to argue against court/field storming if alcohol is being served.
"I don't know what good comes out of it," Sheehey-Church said. "That would be my first sentence."
The other line of reasoning sounds a bit like the NCAA and schools are putting out fire with gasoline: Alcohol sales prevents binge drinking. "Theories," the NCAA stated in its pilot program release, "suggest that making alcohol available" cuts down on the practice.
The theory goes like this: If fans know there is alcohol available in the stadium, they won't fuel up outside of it. Inside, limits are placed on how many cups can be purchased per visit to the concession stand.
"My wife was a Florida Gator," Neinas said, alluding to the ages-old tradition of sneaking in booze. "All the girls were accompanied [to games] by Captain Morgan."
In 1963, NCAA executive director Walter Byers was getting pressure from schools regarding beer sales at the CWS. It was a different time. Old Rosenblatt Stadium even featured a giant ad of the Marlboro Man.
It became Neinas' duty to tell CWS administrators to let the taps run dry.
One CWS official "told me to tell Walter Byers he can shove it up his ass," Neinas recalled. "Byers came back and said, 'If there's beer, there will be no baseball.'"
This time the discussion is a bit more civil.
"Research is showing us it has a tendency to cut down on binge drinking before people enter the stadium," Prettyman said. "It's been really, really positive to see the lack of issues.
"As an administrator at a university for 33 years, I was adamantly against [alcohol sales]. But as I worked through the tailgate area, [binge drinking] is something that caught my eye."
As of Thursday, only one CWS fan had been ejected for drunken behavior, Prettyman said. There had been no incidents of sales to underage drinkers.
"It's extra revenue, and I don't feel like it's caused any extra problems," said Andy Binder, a CWS volunteer handing out wristbands to of-age adults.
Well, except for the drunk guy last week who tried to hand Binder his debit card instead of his ID.
"He was loaded," Binder said. "He said, 'What's the problem?' 'Well, that's your debit card.' He gave us his pin number."
Another 19-year-old boldly stepped up and offered his drivers license. When reminded he was underage, the kid said, "It was worth a try," according to Binder.
"We just haven't seen a need to do it here," said Nebraska AD Shawn Eichorst, whose iconic football program plays 70 miles from Omaha. "But we're paying attention. As many fans as you might embrace with that sort of approach, you may alienate others."
Nebraska hosted the Big Ten baseball tournament at TD Ameritrade Park last month here where alcohol was served.
In the end, you don't institute pilot programs for grins. The trend is about to become common practice. There is plenty of history to refer to. Most of the bowls -- including the College Football Playoff games -- offer alcohol. The NCAA does not control those events.
Dosh said it's easier to do business on campus with outside entities these days when alcohol is served. Penn State is allowing alcohol sales, in part to attract outside events such as the NHL, big rock concerts and soccer matches.
Ohio State began serving beer and win in limited premium seat areas last season. The practice goes stadium-wide this season. Revenues will be used to fund two new positions on the Ohio State police department.
Florida has instituted alcohol sales in premium seating areas this season. Including Texas, that's four FBS football factories. Can the rest of football be far behind?
"At the end of the day, their ethics and standard and morals go out the window and they see the cash," Dosh said.
When Oliver Luck took over at West Virginia AD in 2010, local law enforcement officials immediately sat him down.
You've got a problem, Luck was told. A lot of your fans are drunk, behaving poorly and throwing up. It's not a situation unique to West Virginia, but at the time, fans were allowed to go to their cars at halftime and fire up on whatever was available.
Luck stopped the halftime pass-outs and instituted beer and wine sales. If there was going to be drinking, it was going to be controlled within the Milan Puskar perimeter. Lyons inherited that philosophy when he took over in January 2015.
"Your point is great, it was a pressure release valve ...," he said. "We were at the cutting edge."
West Virginia is now adding alcohol sales at basketball games. Luck is currently the NCAA's executive vice president of regulatory affairs. He spoke to the NCAA board of governors while they were contemplating the pilot programs.
A cynic might suggest it's easy to see where all this is headed.
It's long been known the NCAA is leaving multi-millions on the table by not accepting alcohol advertising.
How much would it be worth, say, to be the "official beer of the NCAA tournament?"
You need only to check the NCAA's roster of corporate "champions," the three main sponsors of the tournament -- AT&T, Coke and Capital One. They each pay upward of $35 million per year to have that designation, according to ADWeek. The NCAA already has a corporate partnership with Buffalo Wild Wings, whose marketing slogan is, "Wings, Beer, Sports."
It may be argued the inherent problems of selling alcohol at college events have been thought out. Frequently, there are alcohol-free zones at stadiums for families. The vendors at the venues usually have experience checking IDs because of their pro partnerships. It's in their best interest. One slip-up could cost those vendors their liquor license.
One CWS concessionaire told me last week if a person looks to be below age 30, he asks for an ID.
Former Big 12 commissioner Kevin Weiberg said alcohol sales were discontinued at the football championship game years ago because of objects being thrown at a Texas-Colorado title game.
"There's generally been a pattern in our country of acceptability of wine and beer consumption," Weiberg said. "Ten, 15 years ago, the trend of having wine with dinner are not where they are today. I'm guessing that's part of what's in play."
Meanwhile, Sheehey-Church stands firm. Her argument has nothing to do with revenue or social mores. For starters, her son was killed 12 years ago in a drunk-driving incident.
"We're a little discouraged the NCAA is going to do a pilot program," she said. "We hope the NCAA would consider the message it is sending to its member institutions."
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