Top University officials say there won’t be alcohol in the Big House despite the planned addition of luxury boxes.
If the University follows the lead of other schools in the Big Ten that made similar promises, though, that may not be the case.
Six of 11 Big Ten schools allow fans in premium seating at their football stadiums to consume alcohol.
Many in the University community have worried the Big House could follow suit after the University Board of Regents approved a divisive plan this summer that would add luxury boxes to Michigan Stadium.
Big Ten schools have found alcohol helpful – or even necessary – to sell luxury boxes. Each Big House box is expected to sell for about $80,000 per year.
Because most schools ban alcohol to prevent students and fans from drinking excessively, they face a dilemma when dealing with the donors and boosters who buy premium seating. Universities must either look the other way while suite owners drink or enforce the rules and risk alienating big donors – and losing the money they generate.
Rather than crack down on donors and boosters, most Big Ten schools have decided to let suite owners have their way.
Last September, Michigan State University obtained a license to sell alcohol on the club level of Spartan Stadium.
The MSU trustees made an exception to a previous policy banning drinking at athletic events, saying the suites and club-level seating were not part of the seating bowl.
They did so because they were afraid they wouldn’t sell all the suites otherwise.
Some schools, like Northwestern University, provide free alcohol to donors and boosters.
But Joe Parker, the University of Michigan’s senior associate athletic director for development, said the Athletic Department has no intention of changing the rules for the richest few fans.
“We’re confident that people will appreciate the Michigan football experience in a club area or suite without the benefit of alcohol service,” he said.
Although the Athletic Department hasn’t started to solicit potential buyers because the renovation plan has not yet been finalized, a number of individuals and businesses have called to express interest, Parker said.
Parker said the no-alcohol policy has not deterred buyers.
“We’ve let them know that there will be no alcohol, and it hasn’t discouraged anyone from saying that they’d like to follow through and buy a suite,” Parker said. “The tradition at Michigan has been pre-game tailgating, and we think that will remain the tradition.”
University President Mary Sue Coleman has said she opposes the sale of alcohol at University sporting events and doesn’t care whether other schools have decided to sell alcohol.
“I’ve thought about this for a long time,” Coleman said. “Just because other institutions do something or don’t do it has no influence on me.”
Before coming to the University, Coleman took a similar stance on alcohol as president of the University of Iowa. During her tenure there, alcohol was not available at athletic events.
But after Coleman left for Ann Arbor in 2002, Iowa’s Athletic Department changed the policy.
When Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium openend its suites and club seating this fall, the fans in premium seating areas could buy alcohol for the first time.
Although Coleman remains a vocal opponent of alcohol at University sporting events, critics fear the Athletic Department could reverse its stance once she leaves.
The Board of Regents recently granted Coleman a five-year extension on her contract. It now ends in August 2012.
Which stadiums allow alcohol?
MSU – Yes
Illinois – No
Ohio State – No
Purdue – Yes
Northwestern – No
Wisconsin – Yes
Iowa – Yes
Minnesota – Yes
Penn State – Yes