This fall's eagerly awaited return of University of Minnesota football to a campus stadium will feature nostalgia, pageantry and fresh air. But no beer.
University President Robert Bruininks will recommend Friday that regents ban alcohol from the new stadium after state lawmakers demanded that fans in the TCF Bank Stadium cheap seats get as much access to booze as those in the suites.
He is extending the no-alcohol policy to the hockey team's Mariucci Arena and the basketball team's Williams Arena. While alcohol isn't broadly sold in either, it has been available in suite and reception areas.
"We know people will drink before they get to our games. We're not naive," Bruininks told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday. "But we do think this is the best, most responsible way to manage our game days and to really make this a high-quality experience for our fans."
“This is an educational institution and it's not a professional sports venue.”U of M President Robert Bruininks
Lawmakers and Gov. Tim Pawlenty hemmed the university in by attaching conditions to a liquor license for the football stadium. They said the school could sell alcohol stadium-wide or not at all. They also blocked the university from serving free alcohol to fans in premium seating areas, such as luxury boxes and club rooms.
University officials opposed the conditions, saying stadium-wide sales would be out-of-step with on-campus stadiums in the Big Ten and send the wrong message to students about drinking. Lawmakers argued that limiting booze to people holding expensive tickets smacked of elitism.
The Gophers campus homecoming comes after 27 football seasons in the Metrodome.
The old campus stadium was torn down after the school shifted games to downtown Minneapolis in 1982. The novelty of the climate-controlled Metrodome wore off fast. Average attendance steadily slipped and fans began clamoring for a new home. Three years ago, state lawmakers authorized the $288 million, horseshoe shaped stadium with room for 50,000 fans.
The decision to go dry will be a change from collegiate games in the Dome, where fans could buy beer no matter where they sat.
"Bringing football back to the campus changes everything," Bruininks said. "This is an educational institution and it's not a professional sports venue. The change in venue here was critically important."
The decision could come at a price. Although the university's original plan would have made booze available to only 5 percent of stadium ticketholders, the offering made those pricier seats more attractive.
Online promotional materials for premium seating in the new stadium highlighted extra amenities. Selling points for the 20,000-square foot DQ Club Room, for instance, are the "expansive lounge area with private bar and concessions" and an "expanded food and beverage menu."
Bruininks said the school plans to contact people and companies that already purchased premium seats and could offer them different incentives.
Minnesota officials said there are few campus football stadiums at large colleges where alcohol is available throughout the building. Syracuse University and the University of Cincinnati are among them.
Democratic Sen. Linda Scheid of Brooklyn Park disagrees with the university's decision. She said it could drive drinking underground and cause people to binge drink before coming to games.
"I assume people will bring flasks with them or they'll do something else if they're intent on drinking," said Scheid, chairwoman of the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees liquor licenses. "When you suppress it, it's an artificial suppression. If people are going to abuse alcohol, they are going to do it."
William DeJong, a Boston University professor who studies college drinking, said the move by itself won't prevent alcohol smuggling but the school's new policy should reduce consumption.
"The general rule of thumb in dealing with alcohol is if you make things less convenient, if you make it harder for people to make bad decisions than fewer will make bad decisions," DeJong said. "It seems like a bizarre argument to me to allow sales in every part of the stadium because people just might bring it in anyway."
DeJong said other colleges have imposed random breath tests or other screening at the gate to discourage drinking before games.
By the time the Gophers host their first game Sept. 12, Bruininks said the university will have settled on a plan for keeping intoxicated people from entering the stadium and removing unruly fans who do get in.
Bruininks doesn't expect the Board of Regents to formally act on his alcohol-policy recommendation until June 24.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)