The University of Maryland could soon allow the venue-wide sale of beer at Terrapins sporting events.
At a meeting on March 24, the university's athletic council voted 16-1 to approve a student-crafted proposal to expand the sale of beers from exclusive areas inside Byrd Stadium and Xfinity Center to general concession spots around those buildings, sources familiar with the situation told Testudo Times. If university president Wallace Loh and then the Prince George's County Liquor Board approve the idea – a process that could take several months – the school could start selling beer to of-age patrons as soon as next fall's football season.
As it stands now, only select fans can purchase beer at Maryland games – those in Tyser Tower at Byrd Stadium and luxury areas and the Heritage Hall club level at Xfinity Center. The passage of the current proposal would branch beer sales out to the rest of the crowd, which regularly numbers more than 50,000 overall for football and 15,000 for men's basketball. The expansion would get a one-year trial, after which time the university could terminate it.
Student government officials at the university have been the primary drivers of the idea. Patrick Ronk and Ian Moritz, both juniors, worked in conjunction with the Student Government Association and an athletic council subcommittee on the proposal. They spent about a year developing it, including the production of a six-page white paper they presented to the university's athletic council and athletic director Kevin Anderson.
[Disclosure: Moritz is a close personal friend of the author of this article. I can't pretend not to be sympathetic toward a friend, but there are more sides to the debate, so read on.]
Behind Moritz and Ronk's proposal are two main arguments: First, that it doesn't make sense to only sell alcohol in exclusive areas, and second, that selling beer inside stadiums might reduce binge drinking in less regulated environments before and after games. The university has taken some steps already on the latter point, introducing fraternity-sponsored tailgates on campus before football games last year.
"All fans are equal, and all fans should celebrate the game atmosphere in the same way," Moritz said. "I think the Greek tailgates have shown that fans are more than willing to put the game first and drinking second."
One item that didn't come up in either the full athletic council's discussion or in a subcommittee on this topic, Ronk and Moritz said, was revenue. In their white paper, the students pointed to examples where beer sales had generated anywhere from a couple hundred thousand dollars to up to $2 million per year. They cited at least 32 schools nationally that widely sell beer at sporting events. But the university's interest in beer sales, they said, comes down more to safety than money.
"I really think there's a mentality out there of, 'I need to drink X amount for this sporting event,' and I think that's part of our culture, unfortunately," said Ronk, also the university's student body president. "I think students and regular fans will look at this and say, 'I don't need to rip 12 shots beforehand.' People can say, 'I can have a few beers before the game and a few beers during the game and be happy the entire time. I don't need to force it and binge drink.'"
To that end, the proposal's supporters don't have a hard financial estimate of what beer sales might raise. What might become of the funding it raises is not entirely clear, though student wellness initiatives are a popular thought.
"Ideally, it should go back into education and education about alcohol abuse," said Martha Nell Smith, a council member and the former chair of the University Senate. "Ideally. I don't think that's what's going to happen. I'm not clear on what the revenue stream will be."
Just one member of the athletic council voted against the expansion of alcohol sales. The member, who asked not to be identified while discussing internal policy matters, said it was dishonest to portray the potential shift as a measure aimed at increasing student and fan wellness and not a play for the revenue. On top of that, the member said, the majority of university students are not of legal drinking age, and bringing beer into venues would bring those students no curtailment from binge drinking.
"This whole thing seemed crazy to me, since students who are of age can already drink anyway," Smith said. "If they're of age, why say they can't go up to a stand in the Xfinity Center and get a beer? I don't understand that."
Loh will hold some kind of forum in the coming weeks to solicit feedback ahead of making a decision. If he approves the plan, it would still need the endorsement of the county's liquor board before going into effect, but those involved don't expect any hold-up there. The athletic council has confirmed that no state or federal laws bar the university from furthering beer sales.
A spokesman for the athletic department declined to comment Tuesday. Brian Ullmann, the university's assistant vice president for marketing and communications, stressed in an email that the athletic council's vote was strictly advisory.
"It is President Loh's decision to make," Ullmann said.
No vendor has been formally lined up for expanded beer sales, but the university's Department of Dining Services already has a limited license to sell beer, wine and liquor. The county liquor board would likely mandate that any alcohol bought at Byrd Stadium or Xfinity Center – beer and possibly wine – not be allowed off the premises. That is a standard condition in major sporting venues and consistent with local open-container laws.
At present, the elevators at Tyser Tower are furnished with signs that make clear no alcohol can be taken into the rest of the stadium. At football games, only suite-holders can pre-order alcohol for gamedays, and alcohol orders are discontinued after the third quarter of games, according to an internal legal memo. A similar benchmark would likely be installed at basketball games, perhaps midway through the second half of games.
"If we couple it with an educational policy, it can keep students safe," Smith said. "I want to talk with them about, ‘Yes, drink. If you're of age, make a decision, and if you want to drink, drink. But don't get on the roads if you're inebriated. Make sure your drinking fits with a lifestyle that's committed to academic excellence.' Our students go out into the world. The world doesn't restrict drinking."
Members of the athletic council have suggested a couple of solutions to promote safe drinking. They include serving free snacks with any alcoholic purchase, limiting fans to one 12-ounce cup of beer per transaction, and mandating that university employees, not volunteers or students, stringently check the veracity of IDs.
For its backers, the policy comes down to embracing realities of collegiate and athletic culture.
"If you just try to prevent students from drinking at every point and deny that it happens," Ronk said, "you're just going to push them away and have them drink more."
This article has been updated to better reflect the thinking of the council member who voted against the proposal. The member does not view the expansion of sales as increasing underage access to alcohol, as it was previously written, but as not curtailing unsafe drinking practices.