The University of Minnesota on Wednesday became the first school in the Big Ten to allow fans in general seating to have beer at home football games.
After an 11-1 vote, the Board of Regents approved a policy allowing the sale of "beer or beer and wine" in TCF Bank Stadium where it's "convenient to the general public."
Alcohol will be available an hour before kickoff and until the end of halftime in the premium seating section and a "confined area" at TCF where fans can buy drinks and take them back to their seats. The arrangement will be reassessed after two years.
This decision comes after an arduous back-and-forth with legislators. The U's original plan when TCF was built in 2009 was to allow only fans in the premium section access to alcohol, a move designed to thwart underage drinking and bring in more revenue. But legislators protested what they saw as inequality, and in 2010 passed a law that left TCF without any alcohol served anywhere.
But this year, legislators reconsidered and passed a law allowing beer to be served in limited areas through halftime.
Some regents vote yes, but...
While the regents' vote ends the debate, the controversy is not quite over.
Regent Dean Johnson voted for the resolution but expressed frustration over the attention devoted to the topic of alcohol.
"Our job is to promote the best climate, culture and academic setting possible, that's our overall mission," he said.
Alcohol sales are expected to add an estimated $1.5 million to $2 million a year to the U's coffers, Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, the author of the bipartisan compromise, said in a statement Wednesday. "It treats all fans equally, whether they're sitting in a regular seat or up in a fancy suite."
Regent David Larson was not happy that legislators got involved in what he said is the university's business. He reminded legislators that the Board of Regents is an autonomous body.
Regent Venora Hung voted against the resolution because she felt the Legislature was "encroaching" on their freedoms.
'It's just common sense'
Regent Laura Brod, a former legislator, had no problem with voting yes. "I'm not conflicted at all on this issue," she said. "I think it's just common sense."
Noting the way the resolution balances the opinions on both sides of the issue, Brod said she is hopeful it will also provide a balance between students and fans at TCF.
Among the 120 Division-I football programs, only 11 sell beer to all fans of legal age in university-owned stadiums, according to CBSSports.com.
Measures such as extensive server training, added safety personnel and a limit of two beverages per customer, per sale are planned for the two-year-test run. But, the issue will be assessed after each game.
Matt Beehler, a junior chemistry major, looks forward to enjoying an alcoholic drink during a game -- after he turns 21.
But he said that students will get access to alcohol if that's their goal. "The people that are going to drink are going to drink despite security."
Enforcement will be key, Johnson said.
"The public is watching this issue, and they're watching us," he said. "It's worth a try as we move forward, but it is an experiment."
Asha Anchan • 612-673-4154