In 2019, the SEC decided that individual schools can sell alcohol in their stadiums during games. This came after a long push from fans and similar action from other conferences. Some universities decided to take advantage of this change in policy (like Texas A&M and Tennessee), some chose not to (like Kentucky and Alabama) and others are still undecided.
As a 19-year-old who cannot legally drink at games, my opinion is based more on observation than on any feelings of being left out. In my observations, however, I have noticed some very clear problems that have come about due to UK’s decision not to sell alcohol.
For a start, there is a problem with the hypocrisy of the UK Athletics Department when they say that they are not ready to sell alcohol, yet they are already selling it to the fans in the suites. For years, it has seemed like UK has struggled with listening to the average fan. From stadium renovations, to parking issues, to the Big Blue Madness campout being slowly taken away, this is another step away from listening to the average fan and towards catering only to wealthier fans. If the wealthier fans can have alcohol, why can’t the others?
We all know the answer to the question in the above paragraph — money. What made this an even bigger deal than it already was UK Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart’s later statement about allowing alcohol in the box seats.
During a press conference, in which he announced he would not allow alcohol sales at games, Barnhart, who is a great athletic director and an even greater man, dug himself an even deeper hole. When asked why the wealthier are allowed access to alcohol but the other fans are not, Barnhart replied, “I think there are experiences that you have in different areas of your stadium, and I understand that is a concern.” He then went on to talk about the current experience for those fans and how he thinks we currently have a family atmosphere (breaking news for you Mitch, there’s already alcohol out there). With his comments, Barnhart is insinuating that average fans are somehow too crazy to handle themselves, which is a slap in the face to many.
As someone who has gone to many games and sat everywhere in the stadium, I can tell you that the vast majority of UK fans are well prepared to drink responsibly. Later that month, in an interview on The Athletic with Kyle Tucker, Barnhart said that if his explanation did not come across the way people wanted it to that he apologizes.
He also said, however, that, “There’s a contained space right now where alcohol is being served (in the suites/premium seats) and it’s for a small number of folks and it’s not in the masses and it’s not close to our field of play.” This comment is even more ridiculous as he once again acts as if fans will act like monsters, trying to jump the fences and cause havoc. Yes, every once in a while there’s a drunk guy who runs onto the field, but that happens rarely.
Something that is often brought up when discussing this topic is the incident last year after a game in which a 4-year-old child was sadly struck and killed. While it is a terrible story and one that will stick with us forever, the student driving was allegedly coming from an off-campus party with a fraternity and not from the game. So, while this is a sad and unfortunate situation, it shouldn’t be used as an argument here.
This controversy is one that will continue until either UK allows alcohol sales or Mitch Barnhart owns up to the fact that the reason the suites are getting the alcohol is because of money. Even though we love Barnhart as an athletic director and as a man, his poor explanation and hypocrisy is not acceptable and will result in more and more pressure on UK about this topic.