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‘An amazing and bold experiment’ at U-Md games: Beer

Byrd Stadium in College Park, Md. (Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post)

When football season starts, fans will be able to buy beer at Byrd Stadium during University of Maryland games. The one-year pilot will test whether legal, regulated sales during football and basketball games will cut down on binge drinking — with some fans aggressively pre-gaming with shots and mixed drinks — or lead to more rowdiness.

Students suggested it, researched it, pitched it and sold it, with the student government convincing task forces, councils and the university president that providing and controlling alcohol could ease a problem rather than worsen it.

University President Wallace D. Loh called the pilot “an amazing and bold experiment” in presenting it to the Prince George’s County Board of Commissioners Wednesday night; their approval was the final hurdle.

[Maryland fans can buy beer at Byrd Stadium and Xfinity Center]

There are reasons to be particularly concerned about drinking on game days, said Patrick Ronk, the student government president and a rising senior at U-Md.

Years back, students often made headlines on game days and nights, torching couches, throwing bottles, smashing windows and becoming sick from too much alcohol. After a win against Duke University’s basketball team in 2010, more than a couple dozen students were arrested. After a Final Four loss in 2001, drunken students caused an estimated $500,000 in damage.

A university initiative brought tailgating onto campus — yes, onto campus, contrary to some schools’ efforts to push risky behavior out of their oversight — with police monitoring Greek events. “It’s acknowledging students are drinking,” Ronk said, “and making sure they’re doing it safely.”

There were no medical transports related to drinking during those events last year, a university spokeswoman said.

Before that, students who wanted to drink before games often went to house parties in College Park, where drinks much stronger than beer were the norm and neighbors complained about excessive noise, drunken behavior and so forth.

Adult fans typically grill, play cornhole and drink in the parking lots before games, Ronk said, with not-always-ideal results from people tossing back mixed drinks at noon. “People will drink less in general, and less of the hard stuff, if they can get a drink or two at games,” he said.

[U-Md. aims to sell beer at football and basketball games.]

Student leaders looked at 32 other universities that sell alcohol at football games. “No school had seen a rise in problematic behavior,” Ronk said. “Some had seen decreases. They had also seen a decent amount of revenue coming in,” which would be used for responsible-drinking initiatives, mental health counseling and sexual assault prevention programs.

The school will be checking IDs carefully and pushing people to use designated drivers and cabs.

In a campus survey, faculty and staff had mixed feelings about the idea, but students overwhelmingly supported it. The Diamondback, the student newspaper, endorsed it in an editorial recently. 

Loh’s emphasis is on supporting responsible drinking in a safe environment, said U-Md. spokeswoman Crystal Brown.

Another motivation for the change, she said: Enhancing the fan experience.

In addition to the standard Miller Lites and other popular beers, there will be some Maryland-based craft beers available.

Online, people responded with both joy and skepticism.

If the change doesn’t work out, the university can stop the sales. If it does work, they may add wine as well as beer.

Were there any student groups that opposed the idea?

Ronk laughed. “Honestly, I can’t think of any students that opposed it.”