Auburn University has the autonomy to sell alcohol at its sporting venues.
But fans shouldn’t expect that to change the availability of alcohol sales this upcoming season on the Plains as the university reviews the effect those sales could have.
The Southeastern Conference revised its existing limitations on the availability of alcoholic beverages at athletic events during its annual spring meetings last week to allow for the sale of beer and wine in public seating areas.
The revision allows for each member institution of the conference to determine the permissibility of alcohol sales in each of its athletic venues while remaining subject to the conference’s expectations of alcohol management.
Under the previous SEC policy, universities were able to sell alcohol in a controlled environment with premium seating, such as luxury suites. Auburn University participated in the sale of alcohol under those guidelines and expanded its availability last year.
Auburn allowed for the sale of beer and wine during baseball games in a designated area at Plainsman Park in February 2018. The university also has the approval from the Auburn City Council for the sale of alcohol in several athletics facilities that include Auburn Arena, AU Athletics Complex, AU Softball Complex and Hospitality Village.
However, with the autonomy to provide alcohol sales in a more general setting, the university will not be changing its policies, for now.
“I think the expectation is that we would study it,” Auburn University president Steven Leath said. “We want to have a high-quality fan experience. And we’re trying to balance family-friendly versus people that would like to have alcohol. So what we’re trying to do is think, ‘what kind of group do we need to put together to get all the right perspectives to make the right decision?’ We don’t want to rush into that.
“There are some pilot programs right now like in Plainsman Park, but we want to get it right rather than get it quick.”
If the university does pursue expanding its sale of alcohol, it will be held to the general policies and requirements consistent with state and local regulations that govern alcohol sales and consumption.
The policy will go into effect on Aug. 1 this year for the entirety of the conference. It will not impact suites, clubs or private leased areas in which alcohol sales were previously permitted under the existing conference policy.
“Our policy governing alcohol sales has been a source of considerable discussion and respectful debate among our member universities in recent years,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said in a press release. “As a conference, we have been observant of trends in the sale and consumption of alcohol at collegiate sporting events and have drawn upon the experiences and insights of our member schools which have responsibly established limited alcohol sales within controlled spaces and premium seating areas.
“We remain the only conference to set forth league-wide standards for the responsible management of the sale of alcoholic beverages.”
The standards of the new policy allow for alcoholic beverages to be sold and dispensed only at designated stationary locations and will not allow for the sale of alcohol within the seating areas.
The public areas will be limited to the sale of beer and wine only, while all alcohol must be dispensed into cups.
There are also designated stop times for the sale and/or distribution of alcohol that are as follows: At the end of the third quarter of football games; at the second half, 12-minute TV timeout of men’s basketball games; the end of the third quarter of women’s basketball games; at the end of the seventh inning of baseball games; at the end of the top of the fifth inning of softball games.
The sale of alcohol at other spots will be at a designated time, no later than when 75 percent of the event’s regulation length is scheduled to be completed.
The conference membership will review this policy each year to determine each institution’s compliance to regulations and evaluate fan conduct and alcohol-related incidents to determine if a revision of the conference’s new alcohol policy is necessary.
If Auburn University determines in the future to take part in the conference’s policy and introduce a wider availability of alcohol sales, it will require approval of Auburn City Council.
“Ultimately this determination is made by the university and the athletic department,” Auburn mayor Ron Anders said. “The city’s role would be to approve the alcohol license. I’m certain any determination that the university and athletics will make regarding alcohol in the stadium will come after much due diligence, preparation and evaluation. And I’m confident of that.
“If that time ever comes, and this is something Auburn University wants to consider and they need the support of the city to help them and assist them in evaluating this decision, then certainly the city will offer itself to be a partner with Auburn University, as we do with so many things.”
How the potential sale of alcohol will affect the game day experience will also be a determining factor for the university and city as well. It is a point that the city’s public safety director Bill James is well aware of for the purpose of ensuring a safe and welcoming environment.
“If the university elects to do that, then obviously we’ll just do the same thing we’ve always done,” James said. “Anytime you introduce alcohol to a situation or a venue, there are potential problems. We just hope that if this is approved at some point, that people who decided to participate would be responsible and think about where they are and out in the public around other people, and be responsible.”
The Auburn Police Division handles policing on campus as a part of an agreement with Auburn University back in 2004. On game days, the department has mutual aid agreements with 12 to 14 outside agencies to assist on game day with traffic and security.
“We evaluate everything that goes on during a game day,” James said. “We’re constantly making sure that when patrons come to games and have a good time, we have officers around and being visible and contacting people that are suspicious or just providing information or anything that’s needed on a game day. We have it down to a pretty good science, and we have a tremendous amount of help from outside agencies that come in on game days.”