SEC: Let the alcohol flow

Beverages of Oklahoma state fans line the wall, including beer, which was available at the stadium for the first time, during an NCAA college football game in Stillwater, Okla., Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
The SEC, the last major conference to have a ban on alcohol sales at athletic events, will allow the sale of alcohol beginning this upcoming school year. (AP)

DESTIN, Fla. — Let the alcohol flow.

That’s the decree in the Southeastern Conference. The league’s presidents voted Friday to lift the alcohol ban in their stadiums, with restrictions, passing the decision to the 14 individual schools to set their own alcohol policies. Some, like LSU, are fully onboard and ready to imbibe. Others, like Missouri, say they’re going to study the issue before committing. Still others, like Georgia, have plans for limited alcohol sales to certain ticket holders.

But the bottom line is this: Schools that want to serve liquor at sporting events can now do so, effective Aug. 1. And they are ready to reap the profits.

In a time of massive media-rights revenues pouring into schools, the bump from beer sales isn’t likely to be a game-changer for the bottom line. Nor is it likely to dramatically turn the tide of dwindling attendance at games. But many fans will appreciate having the chance to purchase a drink at a game, and all new revenue streams are welcomed by athletic directors.

Commissioner Greg Sankey said the discussion of alcohol sales at SEC stadiums has been ongoing since 2010, without ever becoming enacted until now. The SEC was the last major conference to have a ban in place. The question is, why did it take a league full of party schools this long to join the 21st century?

“We’re a pretty traditional league,” Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said. “There’s a lot of societal and cultural pressures in the South.”

The Bible Belt may not champion the cause of inebriation, but the idea that alcohol sales at college sporting events will further the moral decay of society is a stretch. Yes, there will be some under-age students who will try to be served at games — but guess what? They’re already being served at bars in town and frat parties via fake IDs.

Sankey, who said he has never had a drink at a sporting event, said the league was not unanimous in its support of removing the ban but did not provide specifics on where schools aligned. Sankey presented a reserved acceptance of this new era.

“There’s great care,” Sankey said. “When you lead the nation in attendance … you cherish that position and you proceed cautiously. … We are a conference walking away from decades of prohibiting this activity, and we want to proceed cautiously.”

Among the restrictions in place:

  • The league-wide ban on outward-facing alcohol advertising in arenas and stadiums remains.

  • There will be no roving vendors selling alcohol.

  • IDs are required at every point of sale.

  • Beverage sales are limited to beer and wine in public seating areas.

  • There will be limits on the number of drinks to be purchased at one time by an individual.

  • There will be designated stop times for sales: end of the third quarter in football and women’s basketball; the under-12-minute timeout of the second half in men’s basketball; the end of the top of the seventh inning in baseball and the fifth inning in softball; and no later than when 75 percent of an event’s completion in other sports.

“We are proud of the great game-day atmospheres the SEC and our member schools have cultivated throughout our history, and no other conference rivals the SEC in terms of our ability to offer an intense yet family-friendly atmosphere for all our fans,” said South Carolina president Harris Pastides, current chair of the league’s presidents and chancellors. “The policy is intended to enhance the game-day experience at SEC athletics events … while also establishing expectations for responsible management of the sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages.”

There would seemingly be a long list of breweries offering big money to become the Official Beer of the SEC. But they can save their energy for now.

“We’re not there,” Sankey said.

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