Alcohol bill can produce undesirable effects


Commentary


frank

I was disappointed and concerned to read about how the Rutgers University Student Assembly passed a resolution to support the sale of alcohol at campus athletic events in Friday’s issue of The Daily Targum. The resolution does not immediately allow for the sale of alcohol at athletic events — this is something that needs to be discussed and approved by Rutgers Athletics, University President Robert L. Barchi, the Board of Governors and the Board of Trustees. I believe that the Rutgers University Police Department and the Alcohol Policy Committee should weigh in on this as well.

RUSA stated that this would be a new source of revenue and that some of it should be directed at other campus programs, including the Rutgers Counseling, Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program & Psychiatric Services (an underfunded part of Rutgers Health Services that I worked at for five years). It’s a proposal that is not specific about the percentage of money that would go to campus programs nor how many years that allocation should last. It’s an old trick. When a politician wants to pass a controversial measure, he will say that part of the revenue will go to support some underfunded venture that will benefit the public. This has happened with tobacco and the lottery in many states. It also happened quite famously with the casinos in N.J. in the early 70s — they were approved by voters only after the N.J. citizens were promised that some casino revenue would go to fix N.J. infrastructure and support public schools. It didn’t happen, and casino revenue eventually became an expected part of the government’s revenue stream and was cut up and applied to wherever those in power wanted it to go. This will almost certainly happen if alcohol sales on campus become a reality. It will not go to the programs that are proposed.

Alcohol sales at college sporting events have been a topic that has appeared a few times in the news over the last couple of years. There was a quality article in The New York Times last fall that discussed the deliberation that eventually led to the sale of alcohol at West Virginia University’s sporting events. The following quotes are from an August 2014 ESPN story about selling alcohol at college football games: “I know why the question is relevant for some,” Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst said. “For me, the bottom line does matter. But at what point does it outweigh what you’re trying to do, trying to keep the civility?”

Using an oft-repeated sports marketing catchphrase, Akron Athletic Director Tom Wistrcill said offering beer is a way to “... Enhance the fan experience. You do it because, yeah, we want to make some money on it,” Wistrcill said. “But in this day and age, we’re going to fight the 60-inch high-def TV since every game is available on an ESPN broadcast or on the high-quality Internet. How do we keep people coming to the stadium for the in-stadium experience?”

I tend to agree with Eichorst and the desire for civility. I’ve attended well over 600 professional sporting events in my life, and the atmosphere has often been greatly diminished by the presence of multiple drunken louts. Granted, some of them showed up drunk from their tailgate parties, but a lot of them either got smashed or worse because of the alcohol they bought at the event. That said, the view of Wistrcill will ultimately win out on most campuses. Pack ’em in and raise money.

Will selling alcohol at football games improve or diminish the football experience at Rutgers? The answer to that question depends upon who you ask. A better series of questions is, will it lead to more fights? More accidents? More hospitalizations due to intoxication? More police incidents? More sexual assaults? I don’t know the answer to those questions, but it is my hope that Rutgers asks them before moving forward.

Frank L. Greenagel Jr. is a professor in the School of Social Work and Center of Alcohol Studies, and a Rutgers Class of 2001 alumnus.

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Frank L. Greenagel Jr.

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