Despite SEC policy change, UK opts for no alcohol sales in-stadium

The parking lots were full of cars and tailgaters prior to the game against South Carolina on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018, in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky defeated South Carolina 24 to 10. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

Hailey Peters

Editor’s note: This story originally stated that alcohol would not be sold at the university’s student Gameday Zone. That was incorrect. Like last school year, vendors will continue to sell beer and cider in the zone to students with a valid ID.

Earlier this year, the Southeastern Conference revised their policy preventing the sale of alcohol at athletic events.

The SEC handed the decision-making power over to individual universities to decide for themselves whether or not they want to sell alcohol to the public at athletic events. Several SEC schools chose to make alcohol sales an attraction and selling point for fans, but UK chose to keep its home sporting events dry.

“It is our goal, as well as our responsibility, to create a safe, secure, positive, engaging environment for fans of all ages and from all walks of life,” said UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart when he announced the decision to remain dry at an early August press conference. “We believe we have an outstanding college fan experience at our games. Though we recognize we can always find ways to do better, we’re also careful about disrupting what we have currently in place.”

The new alcohol policy will stand for the upcoming year, but the university acknowledged that it may not remain permanent. During the press conference, Barnhart left the door open for possibly reconsidering the policy next year.

According to UK spokespersons, the university administration as a whole supports the athletics department’s decision and is ready and willing to assist in any needed adjustments.

“The SEC has taken the right approach to this important issue by deferring to the individual, member institutions to make decisions about what is in the best interests of each university, their programs, and their fans,” UK spokesperson Jay Blanton said. “Led by Director Barnhart, UK will take the next several months to consider this issue. We will, as always, seek to do what is right for the University, our student-athletes, and the experience and safety of our fans.”

Students who are of-age will still be able to purchase alcohol at the UK student tailgate zone at Pieratt Field. Until last year, of-age students were allowed to bring their own alcohol into an on-campus tailgating area known as The Bowl.

In the fall of 2018, UK administration moved the student tailgating area to the fenced-in Pieratt Fields behind the Johnson Center and eventually prohibited students from bringing in their own alcohol. 

Barnhart stressed that the new policy came from a concern for the safety of UK fans at athletic events.

Guy Ramsey, Director of Strategic Communication for UK Athletics, elaborated on the specifics of the safety concerns.

“With what happened last year especially, we want to minimize the risk of any serious accidents,” Ramsey said, referring to the death of 4-year-old Marco Shemwell after a football game last season. “We don’t believe that students at UK should need to drink heavily to have an incredible fan and student experience, and we don’t want to compromise the safety of people who come to our games.”

UK’s dry policy, has one contingency: premium club seating. Fans who have seats in premium club areas such as the Woodford Reserve Club at Kroger Field will be able to still purchase alcohol within luxury areas.

The exception for club members to be able to purchase alcohol while the rest of the stadium cannot join has left several UK fans feeling overlooked and upset.

Ben Stone, a sophomore chemical engineering major at UK and loyal ticket holder at several athletics events believes that the new policy is simply a way to reward the fans that have the money to pay for more expensive seating throughout the athletics season.

“The current alcohol policy is hypocritical and divides the Big Blue Nation by economic status,” Stone said. “By serving alcohol to those in clubs and suites, but not the general audience, gives the impression that UK does not trust or value its fans.”

Barnhart has commented on the decision to still allow the sale of alcohol at club levels, saying that he and his staff believe that the college gameday experience is achieved enough in the common bowl with tens of thousands of other fans next to each other all wearing the same color and cheering for the same team.

The athletics staff will continue to monitor the decisions of other SEC schools to see what those outcomes are going to become, but Barnhart said he is looking for a more permanent policy on alcohol sales and hopes that this is the right one to keep a balance between a fan’s enjoyment and safety.

This story appeared in the Aug. 27, 2019, Kernel print edition. View the paper online here: Aug. 27, 2019.