On its face, it would appear that serving beer inside Beaver Stadium during Penn State football games would be throwing gasoline onto a fire. How could granting access to even more alcohol than the countless gallons of booze already guzzled in the Beaver Stadium parking lots possibly reduce the number of public drunkenness and disorderly conduct charges? As it turns out, serving beer in stadiums may be the classic example of the counter-intuitive approach being the best approach.
Oliver Luck is an attorney and the current athletic director at West Virginia University. This former Mountaineers and Houston Oilers quarterback is also the father of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. Last week, Oliver Luck spoke to Colin Cowheard on ESPN Radio about steps the WVU Athletic Department implemented to curtail drunk and disorderly behavior at WVU games. I have never been to Morgantown, but for as long as I can remember, WVU has had a reputation for having some of the most drunk and rowdy fans in the college football world.
The biggest change WVU made was eliminating the stadium alcohol ban and selling overpriced beer inside the stadium. Luck reported that since beginning beer sales at Milan Puskar Stadium, crimes like public drunkenness, disorderly conduct and assaults have decreased by 25 to 30 percent from their previous level.
The statistics don’t lie, but why would making alcohol more available cut down on alcohol-related crimes? For one thing, it cuts down on fast, binge drinking at tailgates. When people know they will be cut off from booze for the next three hours, certain people will down as much as they can right before entering the stadium. This usually entails doing shots. If people know they can get more beer in the stadium, they are less likely to down five or six shots in the half hour preceding kick-off.
The prices are another factor. The beers are not cheap. Therefore, people will slowly drink one or two beers, instead of five or six. You might think that expensive beer would contribute to pre-game binging as much as an outright alcohol ban in the stadium, but this does not appear to be the case, based upon WVU’s experience. From a psychological perspective, people are less likely to overindulge in the parking lot as long as they know they will have access to beer in the stadium.
Personally, I prefer to drink after, rather than before, Penn State games. I am a die hard fan, so I want to be sober enough to fully comprehend all the nuances of the game, and I do not want to miss any plays while in the restroom. But I am not everybody. Not everyone in Beaver Stadium is a die-hard fan. Many are casual fans, who are more interested in being with their friends in a party atmosphere, and those people want to get their drink on. Those casual fans will always be a major contingent in a 108,000 seat stadium. If we cannot eliminate them, we can at least reduce the harm they inflict upon themselves or others.
Even if other college stadiums find success with the WVU approach, I do not think Penn State would adopt the WVU model. Penn State wants to discourage student drinking, and the university would fear sending the wrong message. Penn State would also fear being criticized for “selling out” to Yuengling or Anheuser-Busch for the multi-million dollar contract, at the expense of public safety, when ironically, Beaver Stadium beer sales just might benefit public safety.
If you are charged with a summary offense like public drunkenness, disorderly conduct or underage drinking, it is highly advisable to consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer.
Matt McClenahen is a criminal defense attorney in State College, Pennsylvania, with extensive experience representing people charged with alcohol-related offenses. He is a Penn State alumnus and football season ticket holder.