MIRAMAR BEACH, Fla. – The Southeastern Conference is in agreement: Bottom’s up.
The SEC’s decades-long prohibition against alcohol sales in its stadiums is over after the league’s presidents voted Friday to allow each individual institution the autonomy to serve alcohol on their campuses on the final day of the conference’s Spring Meetings from the Sandestin Beach Hilton.
“Our institutions with have autonomy in how alcohol is made available under certain conference-wide expectations,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said Friday. “That autonomy will apply to their decision-making on locations in their stadiums. We’re committed as a conference to ensuring the changes in this policy are implemented in ways that respect and sustain our attendance success.”
The decision, which resulted following a recommendation from a five-person SEC working group that included Alabama president Dr. Stuart Bell, was the first time the league has even considered overturning its longstanding alcohol policy, and required just a simple majority to pass. SEC schools can now begin selling alcohol in the public seating areas of its stadiums beginning Aug. 1.
“I know there’s a lot of interest in it,” Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne said Wednesday. “I think there’s a (SEC) working group, some really good and capable people, and I think the reality is they’ll come forward with a recommendation and then presidents will decide if that’s the right path to go down.”
The removal of the ban allows each SEC institution the ability to decide whether or not to sell beer and wine – no hard liquor will be available – in public seating areas, so long as they abide by a certain set of conference-issued standards and practices. Alcohol, including hard liquor, will still be available in controlled environments like designated “premium seating” areas.
“There is no expectation that anyone make alcohol available beyond clubs or suites,” Sankey said. “This is now an opportunity for our institutions to make responsible and appropriate decisions around their facilities regarding where alcohol will be available.”
Among those “standards” include requiring alcohol to be sold and dispensed at designated stationary locations and may not be sold in the seating areas. Also, mandatory ID checks to prevent the sale to minors. Alcohol must be dispensed into cups and limited to one drink per person.
All alcohol sales must be halted at the end of the third quarter in football games, the 12-minute TV timeout in the second half of men’s basketball games, the middle of the seventh inning in baseball games, the middle of the fifth inning in softball games, and no later than at the 75-percent mark of the event’s regulation length of competition in other sports.
Conference membership will review the policy each year and evaluate fan conduct and alcohol-related incidents for the purpose of determining whether there may be a need to revise the league’s new policy.
“We expect our institutions to enact this autonomy in a responsible way,” Sankey said.
A long-discussed topic of conversation at the league’s annual Spring Meetings in Destin, several SEC programs have been preparing for the removal of the conference’s prohibition for several years.
“We already are exploring it, and two schools in our state (Middle Tennessee State and Memphis) are already serving alcohol at games,” Tennessee athletics director Phillip Fulmer told the News-Sentinel on Thursday. “To what degree and how (it’s implemented), that’s strictly to be determined.”
LSU implemented beer and wine sales in its Skyline Club in the upper level of Tiger Stadium two years ago and then adding a section on the lower level that requires a wrist band for admittance, but is open to the general public. Last year, Florida experimented with a mobile beer garden outside Ben Hill Griffith Stadium in Gainesville with “no issues, it was well received,” according to Gators athletics director Scott Stricklin. The school also sold alcohol there for a recent Garth Brooks concert.
“There were no negatives from that concert with Garth Brooks – 75,000 people, alcohol was available, and other than long lines at the concessions, we had no arrests, very limited behavior issues,” Stricklin said Friday. “Obviously the conditions are a little bit different from a competitive standpoint than an SEC football game, but it’s probably something that, if we ever got to the point of introducing it on game days, it’d be something that we’d have a starting point.”
That’s not to say all SEC programs will have alcohol sales beginning Sept. 1, with some SEC administrators still skeptical of what selling alcohol on their campus might look like moving forward.
“My personal opinion is we ought to think of it from a campus perspective, if something were to go through, what makes sense for us, and I don’t have an answer for that,” Auburn athletics director Allen Greene said Wednesday. “That is a much more collaborative institutional discussion.”
Auburn president Steven Leath later made it clear there wouldn’t be any alcohol sales on the Plains for the 2019 football season.
“I expect no changes this season and there will be a thoughtful process before we make any decisions,” Leath told AuburnUndercover.com on Friday. “Sometime in the future – and it’d have to be an inclusive process where we engage the board, fans and stakeholders.”
Alabama administrators did not respond to requests for comment Friday.