Game-day crime rates are down for 2012

Campus police have responded to 43 percent fewer incidents than last year.

Andrew Krammer

The University of Minnesota’s police department has responded to fewer calls on football game days despite the addition of alcohol at TCF Bank Stadium in 2012.

Through three games this season, 21 incidents have been reported. Nineteen were alcohol-related, and 12 involved University students.

In 2011, when beer was not sold at the stadium, University police responded to 37 incidents through the first three games, nearly all of which involved alcohol.

The state Legislature approved beer sales to the general public at TCF Bank Stadium in the offseason, making it the first stadium in the Big Ten to do so.

This weekend’s game against Syracuse spawned two-thirds of this year’s incidents. Ten of Saturday night’s 14 incidents were student-related, all of which involved alcohol.

University junior Mike Zenker cheered near the front row of the student section Saturday night, adding to the roar of an announced sellout crowd of 50,805.

But he said he thought fans would be rowdier in the first night game of the year at TCF Bank Stadium.

“I usually see a few people getting escorted out, but I didn’t see anything from the police [Saturday],” Zenker said.

Gophers officials said they expected an uptick in incidents solely because the Syracuse game started at night. But the game produced a similar number of incidents as the typical afternoon game last season.

University police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner said the beer sales could have a direct impact on the decline.

He suggested people are showing up to the game less intoxicated and are smuggling in less liquor because beer is available at the game until halftime.

However, University police have an additional 12 officers working Gophers games this season, eight of whom are assigned strictly to the beer garden to help curb misbehavior.

Even though the athletics department has generated an additional $400,000 from three games, according to spokesman Garry Bowman, the financial impact wasn’t the only reason Minnesota wanted to allow beer sales.

Other athletics departments have done it successfully — and safely.

West Virginia University made a similar switch in 2011, opting to allow beer sales in its football stadium.

After a full season with alcohol, WVU witnessed a 43 percent drop in game-day incidents.

“People want to have an alcoholic beverage during the game,” WVU athletics director Oliver Luck said. “It only makes sense to facilitate that instead of fight it.”

WVU fixed its alcohol-related incidents problem two ways: It allowed beer in the stadiums, and it stopped a re-entry policy that had caused headaches.

Luck said fans would leave at halftime, spend the 20 minutes guzzling booze and then return.

Even though Minnesota doesn’t allow fans to re-enter TCF Bank Stadium, the mentality of drinking heavily prior to kickoff seems to have softened.

“People don’t have to drink on a deadline anymore,” Minnesota associate athletics director Scott Ellison said.

Ellison said Saturday’s game was “the first real test” for beer sales at the three-year-old stadium.

“I think we passed,” Ellison said.

However, in TCF Bank Stadium’s brief history, the Gophers’ opponent and student attendance play a large role in the number of reported incidents.

“It’s a bit premature to wave the victory flag,” Miner said.

Miner noted that student attendance has “plummeted” since the inaugural 2009 season. Season ticket sales have dropped from a sold-out 10,000 three years ago to about 4,000 this year as of last week.

“Usually about 50 percent of the folks we deal with are students,” Miner said.

But Miner said the “true test” will be next season, when the team hosts Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska.

“Historically, those [Big Ten] teams have fans that travel well and are heavy drinkers, too,” Miner said.