| NEWS David Whitley: Alcohol in stadiums a big mistake for SEC schools - Hastings Tribune

With underage drinking a problem on campuses, the SEC’s vote to allow alcohol sales at football games is a classic example of putting profit before principle.

A cardinal rule of parenting is you must walk the walk. Don’t tell kids not to do something and then do it yourself.

That stumbling sound last week was the Southeastern Conference trying to walk a fine line on drinking alcohol. The league put profit over principle and voted to lift a ban on serving alcohol at sporting events.

Booze was already available in restricted areas like skyboxes. High-brow fans could drink up but the great unwashed could not. Now it’ll be up to individual schools whether to serve beer and wine in public areas.

Florida is pondering what to do. You can bet your autographed Steve Spurrier visor the Gators will open the taps.

Proponents say the new policy will actually cut down on drinking problems. Take that with a grain of margarita salt.

The real justification is money. Schools stand to rake in millions of dollars, and they need every penny to keep the Sports-Industrial Complex growing.

It’s almost too easy to rip the SEC’s decision. Before I hop on that soapbox, a little perspective is called for.

Most fans can handle their booze, though you might disagree if you’ve ever spent a Sunday afternoon in NFL end zone seats. Either way, people are going to drink.

We tried Prohibition and it didn’t work. But we also tried legalized drinking at age 18, and that didn’t work.

Even though most college students are under 21, campuses still have severe drinking problems. Alcohol contributes to an average of 1,519 student deaths annually, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

The study was based on alcohol-related incidents from 1998 to 2014. It found that alcohol also played a role in 696,000 assaults and 97,000 cases of sexual assault.

College administrators realize selling booze sends a mixed message, and many anguish over the position they’re in. But academia has been swept up in the athletics arms race of TV deals, $6-million-a-year coaches and recruiting enticements.

It’s not cheap putting 43-inch video monitors above every player’s locker, as Texas did.

“Selling alcohol is a great way to make money,” Dr. Toben Nelson said, “especially if someone else picks up the tab for the negative consequences.”

He’s an associate professor at the University of Minnesota who has studied alcohol addiction and sports. Only a handful of colleges sold alcohol a dozen years ago.

Now more than 50 do, and some aren’t just selling alcohol. USF renamed its basketball arena the Yuengling Center last year.

Guns are also frowned upon on campuses, but it’s just a matter of time until some school unveils NRA Field.

Hey, that would pay for a lot of flat-screens.

It’s all to provide a product the public craves. If we really wanted reform, we’d turn off our TVs every Saturday until coaches were again paid less than the entire Engineering faculty.

There’s plenty of empty talk to go around, but turning Florida Field into an ABC Liquors would represent a special category of hypocrisy.

As corny and outdated as it sounds, aren’t colleges supposed to teach ideals?

They must still think so. Remember “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party”?

That’s what the Florida-Georgia game was called for years. Everybody seemed to like it, but society’s views on public intoxication evolved.

In 2006 the schools told CBS and other outlets to stop using the partying nickname. It sent a bad message, you know.

As for the new message, the SEC is quick to point out qualifiers like limits on how much alcohol will be sold and when it can be bought. The league also cited studies showing alcohol sales in stadiums reduces booze-related problems.

West Virginia had big problems with fans leaving at halftime, binge drinking and returning to the game. It instituted a no re-entry policy and began selling alcohol inside the stadium.

Alcohol-related incidents dropped 35 percent, but selling alcohol wasn’t the big reason. It was the no re-entry policy.

“People like to cite the West Virginia experience as evidence that selling alcohol in stadiums reduces drinking,” Nelson said. ‘But most scientists would call that a bad experiment.”

Most big-time schools now call it a reason to get into the booze business. It’s impossible to say what kind of impact that will have on campus drinking problems, but it’s hard to see how it will help.

If it contributes to just one more sexual assault, is it worth it?

Kids know when authority figures are all talk and no walk. If nothing else, CBS should be allowed to resurrect the old “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” slogan when the Gators and Bulldogs meet in November.

You can’t very well preach against alcohol with one hand while you’re serving it with the other.
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