COLUMBUS – Until now if someone said they were going to have a cold one inside Ohio Stadium you probably thought they meant they had tickets for an Ohio State football game in November.
But that definition has been greatly expanded after OSU’s recent decision to sell beer throughout the stadium during the 2016 football season.
Just two years ago Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said he would rather leave the money on the table than sell beer.
Last year, OSU took a first step and made alcoholic beverages available for a few thousand fans in suites and club seats.
But now the decision has been made to tap the kegs and let a new revenue stream pour into the athletic department budget. Estimates of how much money this will bring in range from $500,000 to more than $1 million.
Selling beer in their football stadiums is something around 35 universities do, ranging from schools scrambling to cover expenses, like Minnesota, Maryland, Bowling Green, Akron and Kent State, all the way up to the 1-percenters of college football at places like Texas and Ohio State.
It does bring in a lot of money. It’s being done a lot of places. It’s something almost any school could do.
But just because they can do it does that mean they should do it?
College football is a unique experience that is different from professional sports. If you have something people like this much, why tamper with it?
Money, of course, is the answer. But adding alcohol to the mix could alienate some of the people who have the most intense and most emotional attachment to the college football experience.
And college football is an experience at the level of an Ohio State, a Michigan, a Notre Dame, an Oklahoma or an LSU and many more places. It is more than just a product or a commodity.
For many fans, college football is their one true sports love. According to author John U. Bacon, when the University of Michigan surveyed its season ticket holders in 2005, it found only nine percent of them had season tickets for a professional team in any sport.
One of the many attractions of college football games is that the atmosphere is different from professional sports.
Alcohol at the concession stands is far from the only factor in this difference. But it does make a difference.
Before I began covering Ohio State football, I went to enough college football games to be familiar with the level of pre-game alcohol consumption and with the inventive ways people smuggle alcohol into stadiums.
I’m not naïve about the relationship between drinking and college football even at the places without beer sales inside the stadiums. I’m not oblivious to the fact many people think being able to buy a beer at a Buckeyes game is a good thing.
But it just seems like a mixed message to see universities preach against binge drinking and advocate designated drivers and then see them increase the opportunity for consumption.
Is it a sign of the Apocalypse? No. But is it a move that will improve the overall fan experience? Probably not.