Not Just About Money

In a Thursday interview at his Coliseum office, WVU athletic director Oliver Luck emphasized his desire to see Board of Governors policy amended to allow the sale of beer at Mountaineer athletic events is driven by concerns about the fan experience on game days -- and not solely based on revenue projections for his department.

While acknowledging on multiple occasions that it may seem "counter-intuitive" to hope to combat issues of what he referred to as "coarse" fan behavior by selling alcohol within the confines of Milan Puskar Stadium, Luck said that the matter was one of control.

"I think based upon all of our conversations with public safety folks and based on what our staff has seen over the years, there's a pretty strong belief a lot of the uncivil behavior or lack of civil behavior stems from binge drinking immediately before and during the ‘pass-out' periods," he said, referring to the practice of allowing fans to leave the stadium and then re-enter later.

"We think even though this is a little bit counter-intuitive, that gaining control -- or at least limited control, because clearly we're not going to police tailgates and things like that -- but gaining more control than we've had in the past is the way to help accomplish our goal to improve the atmosphere a bit, improve the civility of the fans a little bit and also at the same time keep that sort of raucous atmosphere, which we think is an advantage for our football team."

Indeed, Luck said that regardless of the Board of Governors' decision on the matter of allowing beer sales at athletic events, the practice of issuing those "pass-outs" (more formally known as "re-entry vouchers") will almost surely end this season.

"It's an anachronism," said the former Mountaineer quarterback and first-year AD. "There's a handful of schools that allow it. Nobody in the Big East allows it. In fact, when I shared some of that with my other AD colleagues in the Big East, they were sort of shocked that you could still do that at Mountaineer Field."

That change, as well as another that would make the concourses at Milan Puskar Stadium smoke-free by moving designated smoking areas, can be made by Luck and his department without Board of Governors approval.

But for beer to be sold within the stadium, the 17-member BoG -- a body Luck was a member of before taking on the role of director of athletics last June -- must approve changes to its own policy, a policy that has been in effect since 2003.

The proposed amendments to BoG Policy 18 were posted online earlier this week.

On Luck's recommendation, Section 4 of the policy would be struck altogether. It currently reads "The selling of beer, wine, or other alcoholic beverages to the general public during athletic events shall be prohibited."

A 30-day public comment period is currently underway. Following that, the issue could be taken up by the Board of Governors at its next meeting, scheduled for June 3 in Charleston.

"I wouldn't want to put the cart before the horse," Luck said when asked if he expected the issue to be taken up by the Board at that point. "But my assumption is there's a 30-day period and they'll get the various comments, look at those comments. But it's up to the Board to put that on the agenda and deal with it. They may. They may not. But my sense is they probably will. But I don't want to presume that."

If, in fact, the amendments to the policy are approved by the board at that point, Luck said there would be little issue with preparing Milan Puskar Stadium for beer sales in time for the football team's season-opening game against Marshall on Sept. 3.

Oliver Luck
Much of the onus of preparation would fall to the West Virginia athletic department's concessionaire, the food services and facilities management giant Sodexo. Luck said Sodexo would be tasked with obtaining a license to sell beer at the stadium and training employees in proper procedures (including how to recognize those who should not be served).

Sodexo (which also handles beer sales at another Big East school, Connecticut) and the Mountaineer athletic department would jointly negotiate a contract for "pouring rights" with various breweries, Luck said.

"They've got a lot more experience, obviously, in the implementation of this than we do, based on their previous experiences," Luck said of Sodexo. "I've got 100 percent confidence that they, as well as any of the other big national concessionaires, can do this. Because they're the ones that are holding the liability. They have the license. They have the legal exposure, in many cases."

In conversations with officials at Sodexo and athletics administrators at UConn and Louisville, Luck said many of the procedures are standardized -- prices will likely fall somewhere between $6 and $9 per beer; there will be no "hawkers" (vendors that walk up and down aisles attempting to sell beer to fans); and, there will be no point of sale near the student sections.

Should WVU begin to sell beer, fans will be limited in terms of the number they can purchase at a given time. Luck said that limit could be set by his department, either allowing fans to buy one or two beers at a time. Sales would also be cut off at some point in the third quarter of games.

Luck also acknowledged what he called the "financial aspect" of the policy amendment. While he said revenue projections range widely because of a number of variables, Luck estimated the sale of beer at football games could bring in a net profit of anywhere between $500,000 and $1.3 million per year.

But that does not mean the athletic director is eager to expand sales to basketball games at the Coliseum or to any of WVU's other athletic venues.

"At this point, we're looking solely at the football stadium," Luck emphasized. "We have no plans to do anything in the Coliseum.

"It's something I don't think right now is a necessity. The same justification at this point doesn't seem to exist for basketball as it does football. I really do think based on the feedback we've been getting that there has been this increasing coarseness of behavior [at football games]."

He also said that, unlike Louisville (which has sold liquor at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium and has premium "bourbon bars" at its new KFC Yum! Center), the Mountaineer athletic department will not consider selling liquor or mixed drinks, even if BoG policy permits it.

Luck acknowledged that decision, as well as the move to not sell beer at the Coliseum immediately, might mean his department would be leaving at least some revenue on the table.

But he again said that money was not the fundamental reason for changing the re-entry policy and attempting to sell beer inside the stadium. Instead, he emphasized, his desire is to promote a more family-friendly environment -- something he said could be further attained through creating designated "family sections" at the stadium, where beer consumption would be strongly discouraged.

That was in response to a series of complaint letters he read from recent years shortly after taking over as athletic director, several of which were focused on what the authors of those letters perceived as an environment that was not conducive to bringing young children to WVU athletic events.

"It's so important, I think, as you establish traditions for kids to be at a football game or a basketball game or even a soccer match, baseball, whatever, because you're creating a memory for that kid," Luck said.

"You're creating a positive experience about going to a Mountaineer game and it sort of becomes something that is part of that young person's life. If the coarse behavior was leading to adults not taking their kids because of language and other things, that's not a good sign. Then you potentially run the risk of losing a generation of fans, and certainly with our demographics within this state and the region, we can't really afford to lose young fans, because we need those folks to kind of grow up on a steady diet of Mountaineer football and basketball and other sports."

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