Merit and merriment in Gopher fandom

Open alcohol sale at the TCF Bank Stadium is a proposition of excellence.

On Dec. 2008, the University of Minnesota Board of Regents voted to deny adults of legal drinking age the ability to purchase alcohol at the then-fresh TCF Bank Stadium: a game-changer for many Gophers sports fans, who had previously been able to drink at the Metrodome. Instead, the Regents voted to allow only clubroom seat holders to drink, citing concerns over ticket salability and Big Ten âÄúbenchmarks.âÄù No other Big Ten school allows alcohol in general seating, we are often reminded. University spokesman Dan Wolter said at the time that people were already allowed to drink in box seats at the Mariucci and Williams Arenas. WolterâÄôs perception of the tenuous standard could not have manifested itself more blatantly: at those stadiums, he said, alcohol âÄúcan be served but not sold.âÄù You see, elites donâÄôt âÄúbuyâÄù booze like we modest plebs, they âÄòreceiveâÄô it: a privilege to imbibe Gopher fanhood in its fullest. Last summer, on the heels of a Spring Jam disorder, the Minnesota Legislature overrode the Regents policy by passing a bill which mandated alcohol be available to all legal buyers or none: a bold and ennobling move; it took political gall. Chairman of the House Higher Ed. Committee, Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, explained to the Minnesota Daily last June that the âÄúoverwhelming feeling in the LegislatureâÄù was that âÄúwhat the Board of Regents did was elitist.âÄù He quipped, âÄúIf you can afford to sit in the premium seats, you can drink chardonnay âĦ cheap seats, you get water or pop âĦ We didnâÄôt think that was right.âÄù When box ticket sales underperformed last season, the University lost out on more than $1 million. With economic concerns now at the fore, alcohol at TCF Stadium has bubbled up again. Mysteriously, in the Senate, fairness has become irrelevant. On Thursday, SF3180 passed a floor vote. Authored by Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, the bill overturns all or nothing alcohol to take advantage of better box seat ticket sales. Proceeds will be split between athletics scholarships and lower student stadium fees. These are good ends, and could be dramatically bolstered if the House, where the future of the stadium alcohol policy is not as clear, keeps pressure on the University to go all, rather than nothing. Vice Chairman of the House Higher Ed. Committee Rep. David Bly, DFL-Northfield, thinks “that would have a difficult time passing in the House. …Why should the folks who go to a football game not have the same rights and privileges as someone else?” he asked. Everyone agrees that alcohol sales generate revenues and increase the value of tickets; However, general tickets are not somehow unique. The fact remains that, regardless of income level, people like to drink at sports games, and will pay more for tickets to do so. Athletics should take advantage of potential revenue sooner, as budget pressures on public universities will become tight in the coming year. John Cheslock, a Penn. State professor who studies college athletics economics postulated in the Associated Press yesterday that âÄúWith double-digit tuition increases, enrollment caps and faculty layoffs common at large public universities, athletics is going to have to share the pain. And instead of across-the-board cuts, that will mean eliminating entire teams.âÄù That pressure, the story indicated, is being felt nation-wide. But Sen. Pappas was resolute that the âÄúRegents feel very strongly that they donâÄôt want to have liquor in the general stadium, that none of the Big Tens do.âÄù Since when, I ask, has the University of Minnesota been a vassal to higher education conformity? Many of the Regents hesitant to stick their necks out now to open alcohol sales are the same Regents who in 2005 affirmed a bold goal to become one of the top three public research universities in the world. The University is âÄòexcellent,âÄô we are often told. Back when the legislature passed the all or nothing policy, University Deputy Police Chief Chuck Miner cited the remaining challenge of people drinking before attending Gophers sporting events. Adults in this conversation must grapple with the reality that some students make up for the prohibition by unhealthily binging to arrive to their ideal sporting experience. Rather than linger in the elitist limits of de facto prohibition, rather than deny Gophers fans the attendant intoxication of Gophers sport competition or deny the real danger of pregame binging, letâÄôs show the Big Ten how to embrace, as President Bruininks said in a March interview, the University communityâÄôs âÄúhighly valuedâÄù culture of shared governance. Let our leaders expect that tuition paying adults at this University are responsible equals everywhere on campus, including at the TCF Bank Stadium we have helped to build. Let us support the health of budget, brotherhood and body; let us excel. When challenged on his budgetary progressivism and his resistance to a sliding scale at the forum on Thursday, President Bruininks assured the University that âÄúIf you knew anything about me, youâÄôd know that was very far off the mark.âÄù Rather than tell the University community, our leaders must show us: show us they value sound budgets, safer students and most of all, show us we merit a respectful, egalitarian form of University administration. That, we think, is the definition of “excellence.”