DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - A debate is brewing over expanding beer sales at Iowa college football games.
A key state lawmaker is proposing a legislative review, while Gov. Terry Branstad and some other policy makers want to let state university officials and the Iowa Board of Regents control the bar taps.
Most areas inside Iowa’s university football stadiums are now officially alcohol-free zones, and many politicians and educators are reluctant to start urging young and old fans to hoist foamy, ice-cold beers in college sports venues. But they also face a reality of ever-rising athletic department budgets that constantly demand more money.
Democratic State Sen. Brian Schoenjahn, who chairs the Senate’s higher education budget subcommittee, told The Des Moines Register (https://dmreg.co/2adyyt9 ) the Legislature should “absolutely” study the issue before any decisions are made whether to expand beer sales at Iowa’s three state universities’ sporting events.
“I am thinking that this might be an interesting revenue source, but until we have a chance as a Legislature to sit down and really have a discussion on the pros and cons of this, I would err on the side of caution,” Shoenjahn said. “The university games are there for the students, and if the students are under 21 it just leaves more opportunities for problems. We also have people driving to these events.”
Democratic State Rep. Mary Mascher wants to leave the decision making to university administrators and the regents. But she is against the idea of expanding beer sales at Iowa college sporting events. Mascher said anyone who walks outside Kinnick Stadium on an Iowa Hawkeye football game day can see plenty of beer is being consumed even before fans start watching the game.
“We already have a problem with a number of students coming to games drunk, causing problems and getting arrested, and we don’t need more of that,” Mascher added. “We are trying to do a better job teaching students how to be responsible, to stop the binge drinking and to explain the issues that revolve around that like campus assaults.”
University of Northern Iowa football coach Mark Farley has signaled he would support beer sales at the UNI-Dome to generate additional revenue for sports programs, saying “You have to pay the bills.” But UNI Athletic Director David Harris said he is not looking at “widespread beer sales” at this “particular time.” Iowa and Iowa State already offer alcoholic beverages in suites or premium seating areas - similar to Northern Iowa - and neither plans any changes.
The University of Texas added alcoholic beverages to its concessions last year, and Ohio State University announced in June it will make beer available stadium-wide this football season. The latest data from IMG, a sports marketing and licensing firm, shows at least 35 schools nationwide now sell alcohol to fans and pressure is growing to permit stadium-wide beer sales as many fans sit at home with six-packs and watch games on big-screen televisions.
Although the Legislature debates bills every year regarding alcoholic beverage regulation, Branstad, a Republican, and several other lawmakers want the final determination on state universities’ beer sales to be made outside of the Capitol.
“Gov. Branstad believes this to be a decision of the universities and the Board of Regents, but he would hope the regents express caution when deciding whether or not to allow alcohol to be sold at collegiate events,” said Branstad spokesman Ben Hammes.
Democratic State Sen. Jeff Danielson agrees with Branstad, saying lawmakers should leave policy making on stadium beer sales to university administrators.
“I do not think this issue needs a state law. There is enough micro-managing going on at the state Capitol. We don’t need any more of it,” Danielson said.
He also said athletic administrators should recognize beer sales wouldn’t necessary generate a financial bonanza. For example, West Virginia began selling alcohol at football games in 2011 and has generated an average of $500,000 a year, which is less than 1 percent of the school’s athletic budget.
However, Danielson added he is open to establishing a beer garden - indoors or outdoors - at the UNI-Dome for Panther football games and at the McLeod Center for basketball games.
“It is really different from an Iowa or Iowa State football game,” Danielson said. “There are really some hardcore supporters who do some tailgating, but by and large, most do not. They come to the game and they enjoy the game and they leave.”
Republican State Rep. Walt Rogers said he knows firsthand that many events at the UNI-Dome and McLeod Center are family-oriented. He suspects some people would be hesitant about moving forward with any plans to sell beer at regular concession stands.
“But as a legislator, my personal idea is that I would like us to stay out of it as much as we could. I mean, I would rather that the universities figure it out rather than having us legislate anything. That’s my initial thought,” Rogers said.
Democratic State Rep. Vicki Lensing said she’s not certain who should make decisions involving beer sales at college sports events, but she’s against expanding alcoholic beverage concessions.
“I know that there are fans over 21 who would really like to see it, but I am just not in favor of it,” she said. “We work so hard to keep alcohol out of the hands of minors. It is not a good idea.”
Hunter Flesch of Waukee, president of the University of Northern Iowa’s student government, says any decision on beer sales at sporting events needs a lot of discussion with involvement by students and the community.
“I can understand the revenue portion of it. I can also understand the drawbacks to it,” said Flesch, a junior majoring in education. “I have had conversations with people who are for it, and with people would be willing to look elsewhere for other sources of revenue. I think that is what we will keep doing.”
Cole Staudt of Rockford, Iowa State University’s student body president, said it’s clear that only limited beer sales will continue at ISU sporting events for now. He favors taking a wait-and-see approach as beer sales expand at other college sporting venues outside of Iowa.
“Right now, I don’t know if it is right for Iowa State,” said Staudt, a senior majoring in political science and public relations. “I think about Jack Trice Stadium. We have 7,000 students in there and it is also a family environment. Iowa State is a special place when it comes to athletics and it is a different environment when it comes to athletic facilities compared to other schools.”
Titus Hou, speaker of the University of Iowa Student Senate, said the reality of the situation is that each school is a little different.
“Just the way our football culture is at our school, I don’t know if it is necessary to serve alcohol during the games, especially since one of the key points for our football program is to help school spirit. I am not entirely sure if alcohol will enhance that,” added Hou, a junior from Lisle, Illinois, majoring in biochemistry. However, he also suggested more data is needed to make decisions on the issue.
Arlene Victor of Bellevue, victims advocate for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said she would be “very, very unhappy” if Iowa’s state universities expand the sale of beer at sporting events.
“Fans get rowdy when they over-imbibe and those same people will drive home drunk. As a result, there will be more drunk driving fatalities. The only ones who will benefit are the concession stands and the beer companies.”
According to the Iowa Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau, 32 percent of Iowa’s total of 322 traffic fatalities in 2014 were alcohol-related, officials said.
Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, who is a UNI Panther fan, chuckled when asked his opinion about beer sales at university athletic events.
“I am probably the wrong one to ask because I have never tasted beer,” Grassley said. “I am not an advocate for anything other than temperance.”
Information from: The Des Moines Register, https://www.desmoinesregister.com
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