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UNT, UT consider beer sales at games along with SMU

Profile image for By Melissa Repko and David Barer
By Melissa Repko and David Barer

Southern Methodist Univeraity’s support for selling beer at its big games on campus is the latest break in a long dry spell at most Texas schools.

The University of North Texas at Denton and the University of Texas at Austin also are considering lifting bans on alcohol sales in the stands at football and basketball games.

For now, only the University of Houston does so.

The public and private universities considering the change say it could boost attendance and raise revenue. But several other Texas schools — including A&M, Baylor and Texas Christian University — remain opposed.

Some cited the potential of underage drinking and rowdy, booze-stoked behavior.

For SMU, its proposed expansion of alcohol sales — already permitted in the football stadium’s luxury suites — is backed by many student leaders, alumni and city officials.

Bob Clark, a University Park council member, said he’s not worried about drinking-related problems.

“I don’t expect it to change the character of the basketball or football games except add more fun to the atmosphere,” Clark said. “I have confidence the SMU fans and students would be responsible in their consumption.”

In 2010, University Park voters endorsed alcohol sales within the city limits over the objections of Mayor Dick Davis and SMU President R. Gerald Turner. They feared such sales would erode the city's character.

Before the vote, Turner said he had “serious concerns about continuous access to over-the-counter alcohol sales” near campus. He also worried it “would encourage greater underage consumption” in SMU’s residence halls.

Now, SMU has obtained the local and state permits, needing only approval from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. SMU athletics director Rick Hart said beer sales could begin as early as January at Moody Coliseum.

SMU spokesman Kent Best said Friday that the university’s push for the stadiumwide sales stems in part from the city ban being overturned.

“University Park voters decided this issue. SMU is making its decisions within the laws of the city and in recognition of the changing collegiate sports environment,” he said.


OK with NCAA

The NCAA has no rule preventing alcohol sales at regular-season events. About three dozen of about 120 of the largest NCAA Division I schools are doing so, according to media reports.

The University of North Texas in Denton also is considering such sales, partly as a way to raise more money.

Eric Capper, senior associate director of athletics, said Friday that stadium sales could help curb binge drinking outside before the games.

He said university officials have been talking with others that allow in-stadium sales, such as the University of Minnesota, for ideas on how to maintain a family-friendly environment.

Beer would be “an additional amenity for our fans, if it’s something they want to enjoy,” he said.

The University of Texas at Austin also is looking into serving brews at its sports events. Alcoholic beverages have long been available in private suites at Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium.

On the other side of the debate, Texas A&M University and Baylor University in Waco said stadiumwide sales could spoil their game-day atmosphere.

“We don’t want to do anything that would jeopardize our reputation,” said Jason Cook, A&M’s senior associate athletics director.

He also noted that the Southeastern Conference that the Aggies recently joined doesn’t permit sales to the masses at member stadiums.

Similar to most major universities, A&M offers drinks in its premium seating areas or suites, often filled with alumni, donors and others paying extra.

Cook said revenue from expanded sales may be seen as a bonus. But schools also have to consider increased law enforcement and training for ushers and concessionaires.

“There are a lot of costs that some people aren’t factoring in,” he said.

Baylor, a Southern Baptist school that barred dancing on campus for 150 years until 1996, also isn’t interested.

Neither is Texas Tech University in Lubbock or TCU in Fort Worth.

“It would be a conflict with our mission,” said Nicholas Joos, Baylor’s director of external relations. “It’s not a path we have gone down.”


Tailgating tradition

At SMU, before each home game, football fans gather near the stadium with tents, music, food and drinks. It’s a tailgating tradition called “The Boulevard.”

SMU has its own police force, which works with officers from the Park Cities.

University Park City Manager Bob Livingston said he doesn’t expect any problems.

“I’m sure if they need help, they’ll call us,” he said. “This isn’t anything out of the ordinary.”

Sgt. Lance Koppa, spokesman for Highland Park’s Department of Public Safety, said that SMU should check best practices by other universities and at professional events that sell alcohol. Among the suggestions: cutting off sales an hour before the end of the game.

Highland Park regularly fields complaints about game-day parking but gets few about rowdiness, Koppa said.

“The crowds have been pretty tame,” he said.