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The Virginian-Pilot(Norfolk, VA.)

Walk through the tailgate area at a college football stadium, and beer drinking is as common a sight as fans adorned in jerseys of their favorite players.

A growing number of schools are bringing the party inside, opening taps in concourses that traditionally have been alcohol-free.

North Texas, SMU and Troy University will begin beer sales to the general public this season. They're among 21 on-campus football stadiums - more than twice as many as five years ago - where any fan of legal age can grab a brew.

Most schools continue to keep alcohol restricted to premium seating areas, if they allow it at all. But offering alcohol is increasingly attractive for some campuses, especially for cash-strapped athletic departments outside the Power 5 conferences.

They're also encouraged by the schools that were among the first to sell alcohol and didn't report an increase in unruly behavior.

"Every institution is looking at how they can increase revenue streams," said Jeff Schemmel, president of the consulting firm College Sports Solutions LLC. "Everything is on the table."

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There are 11 municipal stadiums where FBS teams are tenants and alcohol is available to the general public. The municipality usually keeps most, if not all, of the alcohol proceeds. The NCAA does not sell alcohol to the general public at its championship events. Schools and conferences are allowed to make their own policies.

According to an Associated Press survey of the 21 beer-selling schools that own and operate their stadiums, about half their concessions revenue is derived from alcohol. All but four of those schools are in conferences outside the Power 5.

Troy athletic director John Hartwell estimated beer would bring his Alabama school about $200,000 in commissions this season. Troy will receive 43 percent of gross beer sales at its 30,000-seat stadium, or better than $2 for every $5 beer.

"That's more impactful to a bottom line for a Troy than it is for a Texas or West Virginia or institutions similar to that," said Hartwell, whose program runs on a $20 million budget.

The Big 12's West Virginia, with a budget of more than $80 million, began beer sales in 2011 in part to counter a problem with drunken fans coming and going from tailgate parties during games. Fans no longer are allowed to re-enter the stadium once they leave.

Beer sales have produced no less than $516,000 each of the last three years for West Virginia, and campus police report alcohol-related incidents at Mountaineer Field have declined sharply.

Troy football season ticket holder Brian Ross, who also attends the Trojans' road games, said he sees worse behavior at stadiums where alcohol isn't sold.

"Now these people will realize they can get one in the stadium and they don't need that last beer at the tailgate," Ross said.

SMU reported no change in crowd behavior after alcohol was introduced at basketball games last season but saw huge gains in attendance. The average of 5,653 - the highest since 1984-85 - was up 64 percent over 2012-13.

Still, just a handful of stadiums are giving students and fans the chance to buy a brew. Most remain opposed to it. The Southeastern Conference and the 23-school California State University system, for example, have policies banning alcohol from general seating areas.

"I know why the question is relevant for some," Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst said. "For me, the bottom line does matter. But at what point does it outweigh what you're trying to do, trying to keep the civility?"

 
August 24, 2014
 
 
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