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The long-lingering thirst at Gophers football games will soon be quenched.
The Legislature has overwhelmingly approved letting University of Minnesota football fans drink alcohol at TCF Bank Stadium. Gov. Mark Dayton said he will sign the measure that passed the House Monday and the Senate last week.
"It's nice to finally bring some resolution to it," said Rep. Joe Atkins, an Inver Grove Heights DFLer and chief sponsor of the plan.
Alcohol has been banned at the new stadium since it opened because lawmakers objected to the university's plan to allow drinking only in the arena's expensive suites. With a cry of "beer for one, beer for all," the Legislature put the brakes on any alcohol sales unless folks in the cheap seats were allowed to drink as well.
The new plan, a compromise that passed the House on a 115-13 vote and the Senate 55-3, allows beer for all in special tents during college football games through halftime.
"This is absolutely fabulous," said Bob Hughes, president of the Goal Line Club, a Gophers football booster organization, who called it a good deal for the suite owners who want to entertain clients and a bonus for those in the cheap seats.
"It makes it that much more of a festive experience," Hughes said. "It will set us apart. We'll be the only Big Ten stadium that will actually have a beer garden of that nature. ... This will give people a chance to mingle and have some good football chatter right there in the beer tent. ... It was surprising that Wisconsin didn't do this years ago. The beer tents, the music is a Wisconsin thing. But we're the ringleaders."
A university official previously said the U of M and three other Big Ten schools currently don't sell any alcohol and eight others allow booze only in premium seats.
"Everybody should be able to partake in an adult beverage," said supporter Rep. Leon Lille, DFL-North St. Paul. "Hopefully as [Gophers football coach Jerry] Kill is building up a wonderful new team, eventually we won't need alcohol at the stadium."
University of Minnesota spokesman Jeff Falk said the U supports "this legislative fix."
"Ultimately, however, the Board of Regents will examine any law changes and determine how alcohol sales would be managed at TCF Bank Stadium," Falk said.
University officials had previously wanted to limit alcohol only to the suites because they feared otherwise underage students could get access to alcohol.
'The game still gets played'
George Adzick, director of the "M" Club for university alumni varsity athletes, said he has mixed feelings about selling booze in the stadium. "When I played ball in the '70s the only alcohol in the stadium was brought in a flask," he said. "Times have changed. But we've done just fine without it. The game still gets played. And one team usually wins. People usually have fun at the game. It's entertaining. Each home game is celebrated. And it doesn't require alcohol."
On the other hand, Adzick said it will be nice to be able to offer a "beer and a bloody Mary" in the stadium suite used by the "M" club. "It's value added."
But his father, a Gophers football player from the class of '49, doesn't favor opening the taps at the stadium.
"We have enough saloons," said the senior George Adzick. "But if it's there, I hope it's properly supervised."
Katharine Tinucci, Dayton's spokeswoman, said he will sign the measure into law.
Rep. Atkins said the plan would bring an extra $1.5 million to $2 million in revenue to the cash-strapped university and would require the beer vendors to sell at least one Minnesota brew.
"This gives us a great way to support our Minnesota brewers who invest in our state," said Atkins. "Luckily for us, our local brewers also make some great beer."
It would also allow alcohol to flow at the U's Northrup Auditorium and if the Minnesota Vikings play at the school's stadium. The Vikings played there when the Metrodome collapsed under the weight of winter snow two years ago and would likely play there for a time if they get a new stadium near the current dome.
Controlling pregame partying
Chris Tastad, a senior biochemistry major who chairs the Minnesota Student Legislative Coalition, the lobbying arm of the Minnesota Student Association (MSA) student government, said the MSA took no position on the issue. But he thought the new policy could help moderate drinking before the game, when many fans have felt the need to overindulge to cover three hours of alcohol-free football.
Tastad, who worked football games as an emergency medical technician for University Emergency Medical Services, said their busiest time often was right after kickoff when they had to aid drunken students in stadium bathrooms.
"Instead of making that the central focus -- how are we getting beer? -- I think that element gets taken away with this policy, and the focus becomes the game itself."