U of M hoping breath tests will keep stadium under control

Stadium village neighborhood
This University of Minnesota street is in the shadow of the new TCF Bank football stadium.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

The University of Minnesota has a plan to deal with intoxicated troublemakers at the school's new 50,000 seat stadium when it opens this fall.

Drunk and rowdy students kicked out of the stadium will be required to take a breath test before they're allowed to attend another game; an effort is based on a similar program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Jerry Rinehart, vice provost at the University of Minnesota, has faith in most students. Rinehart, who's in charge of student affairs at the U, expects 99 percent will behave themselves when the stadium opens.

"But we don't want to be naive and assume there might not be any trouble at all," Rinehart said.

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Trouble, when it comes to Big Ten football, is proportional to the amount of alcohol consumed by fans.

And since the opening of the new TCF Bank football stadium marks the return of Gopher football to the heart of campus after 28 years at the Metrodome, you can bet students will be in the mood to celebrate.

U of M officials hope to alleviate at least some alcohol-related problems through a program called Check BAC; BAC stands for blood-alcohol content.

They're still ironing out the details, but the plan is that drunken students who cause problems at a game will get thrown out of the stadium.

Stadium village at the University of Minnesota
This U of M intersection stands in the shadow of the new TCF Bank Stadium set to open in September. Students who get kicked out of the stadium for rowdy, drunken behavior will need to take a breath test before they can return to a game.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

The next time they come to a game, they'll be sent through a special line, where Rinehart said a security officer will give them a Breathalyzer test.

"A Breathalyzer takes 10 seconds to do," Rinehart said. "It's a minor inconvenience, but it helps really to protect all of the students."

If the student is under 21 they have to register a 0.0 on the test. If they have any alcohol in their system, they'll be sent back out the door.

If they're of legal drinking age, they can get by the gates with a reading of .08, which is the legal limit to drive.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison put a similar program in place two years ago.

Ervin Cox is director of student assistance and judicial affairs at UW-Madison. Cox said the school was looking for a way to deal with drunken students at its 80,000 seat Camp Randall stadium.

"This process gives students a second chance, and it sends a message, and hopefully over time it will start to decrease the amount of problems we have to deal with," Cox said.

Cox said this is no teetotal, prohibition-style sweep that ejects a student at the slightest whiff of booze.

"Jane or Joe Student comes to the game, they've had a couple of beers and a bratwurst and they're fine, and they're not disruptive, they're not in any kind of danger to themselves or others, no problem," he said.

Cox said about 100 students have made the list so far.

He admits it will take time before they know if the program changes the culture of binge drinking surrounding college football fandom, but Cox is bolstered by the comments of one young woman required to sober up before she returned to football games.

The woman told Cox she'd gone to every football game her first three years as a student and last week was the first week she went to one sober. The woman said it was the most fun of all the times she'd been to the stadium.

Madelyne Riley
Madelyn Riley, 20, is a theater major at the University of Minnesota. The Milwaukee native isn't bothered by U officials plans to use breath tests to crack down on chronic public drunkenness at U of M football games.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

U of M junior Madelyne Riley said this is the first she's heard about the plan by school officials to use breath tests on chronically drunken stadium goers.

"It sounds a bit extreme when you first told me about it, but I don't really see any problem with it," she said.

Riley, a 20-year-old theater major and Milwaukee native, admits she's not a part of the rowdy, game day drinking crowd. But she knows that public drunkenness goes hand in hand with Big Ten football.

For the U of M's Jerry Rinehart, the new policy is all about finding the right mix of Big Ten spirit and responsibility.

"You get one chance to have a major facility like this on your campus and one chance to really set a culture that has a right blend of celebration and enthusiasm and fun, but also respectful and not out of control," Rinehart said.

Only U of M students can be netted by the Check BAC program.

The University of Minnesota has banned the sale of beer and wine in the new stadium, although there will be plenty of booze available nearby.

The U will allow tailgating in select parking lots on game day, and there are bars located just a short walk from the stadium.