Does selling alcohol at games reduce student binge drinking?

March 1, 2019

Rutgers University announced on Feb. 20 that this fall it will join four Big Ten schools that already offer alcohol sales at football games. Rutgers is expanding beer and wine sales at football games (it has been selling at a premium seating section of the issue), but will also offer acohol sales at basketball, soccer, baseball and softball games. The Scarlet Knights are joining a number of college athletic departments that offer alcohol to general specators at their venues.

During this past football season, according to an article on NJ.com, 51 of the 129 Division I Football Bowl Subdivision programs sold alcohol in general-seating areas of their football stadium.

One of the factors for the growth is that schools have reported a decrease in alcohol-related incidents because of the controlled atmosphere for alcohol use. 

Should college athletic departments consider adding alcohol sales to general spectators, as a way to curb binge drinking at games?

Ohio State began selling beer to general spectators at home football games during the 2016 season. An article on thelantern.com stated: In the Buckeyes’ seven home games last season, University Police — in collaboration with the Ohio Investigative Unit, Columbus Division of Police, Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office — responded to 61 total incidents, compared to 175 in 2015 and 269 total incidents in 2014, based on records obtained by The Lantern.”

According to a 2017 article on Philly.com, the University of West Virginia “reported a 30 percent decrease in alcohol-related offenses since it started selling beer,” which begain in 2011. In 2015, an article on WTAE's (Pittsburgh) website said binge drinking at West Virginia University football games has been reduced significantly due to the selling of beer at games, with a two-beer maximum is placed on each purchase and sales not allowed in the fourth quarter, and buyers are always carded to show they are of legal drinking age.

An article on CenterAddiction feels the policies that West Virginia and other college athletic departments have implemented around drinking at football games are the greatest factors in reducing binge-drinking:

“This decrease in drinking-related incidents at West Virginia is more a result of particular safety policies that West Virginia University put in place than the effect of selling beer at the stadium...It appears these policies are giving the school more control over how much alcohol fans are consuming, and in turn, curbing binge drinking.

“According to the NIAAA, it’s necessary for college presidents and school administrators to create and endorse appropriate, research-based strategies to limit college drinking. Student health rather than school finances should drive colleges' alcohol-related policies. In the case of West Virginia University, it doesn’t appear that the school’s sale of alcohol was what ultimately prevented binge drinking. Instead, it was pragmatic procedures emphasizing control, monitoring, and harm reduction that helped reduce the risks of student drinking – the kind that should be implemented whenever a university allows alcohol at any event where students of varying ages may be present.”

Toben Nelson, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health who has studied the connections between alcohol and sports, said in the article on Philly.com that no one can yet make a connection between beer sales and better behavior.

"Our game-day police regularly round up people who are intoxicated," Nelson said in the article. "How much that's influenced by selling in the stadium is hard to say. They'd argue their sales aren't the source of the problem. But I'd argue that it's contributed to a normalizing of alcohol. When everybody is drinking a little, the extremes get more extreme."

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