Tickets for Saturday night’s football game against Notre Dame sold out faster than any game in Michigan’s history.
And though the entire campus community is excited about the historic sporting event, University officials are also concerned about drinking among students before and after the game’s 8 p.m. kickoff. In anticipation of any problems related to student drinking, the University has multiple safety measures planned.
At a press conference at the University’s Junge Family Champions Center on Tuesday, Athletic Director Dave Brandon, University Department of Public Safety Executive Director Greg O’Dell and the University’s Vice President of Student Affairs E. Royster Harper discussed their concerns about alcohol intake before, during and after the game.
“Our primary responsibility is that students will have a safe and fun event,” Harper said. “Because if it is not safe, it really is not fun, and it changes the whole experience for our students.”
The primetime game is the first of its kind in the history of the Big House and marks the first time the University has had to address all the safety and security issues that come with a night game.
“What’s going to happen this Saturday is the first time we’ve attempted this in 132 years of Michigan football, and we want it to be great, we don’t want it to be a one-off event,” Brandon said. “We’d love to see this be something we can do from time to time, but this Saturday is going to be a significant test.”
As part of a joint effort between the Athletic Department, the Office of Student Affairs and DPS to decrease the amount of drinking among students, non-alcoholic events are scheduled throughout the day and more public safety officers will patrol campus.
According to University Hospital Emergency Department data obtained from a June 17, 2011 Freedom of Information Act request, the number of individuals ages 18 to 24 who were treated for alcohol intoxication from May 1, 2010 to May 1, 2011 was consistently higher on the dates of home football games. Of the top 30 dates, six of the seven home football games last year had the highest number of hospital admittances for alcohol intoxication. Oct. 9, 2010 — the day of the Michigan vs. Michigan State game — had the highest number of hospital admittances at 35 people.
O’Dell said DPS will have an increased security presence on Saturday night, and he hopes to stop intoxicated people from entering the stadium. He added that people who are working the gates have had extensive training to spot those who have had too much to drink.
“Our hope for this is basically that we’ll have great fan behavior, and we’ll be bored as cops here,” O’Dell said. “We really hope that does happen, but if it doesn’t, we are prepared to take police action.”
Mary Jo Desprez, the University’s alcohol and other drug policy and prevention administrator, said the University’s plan to deal with student drinking covers students with no alcohol issues to those with severe problems.
“As an institution, you can’t just do one thing for this one group,” Desprez said. “You have to do something to meet everyone where they’re at.”
Besides football games, dates with high hospital admittances for alcohol issues corresponded with holidays such as Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day, according to the FOIA data. Desprez said those two holidays as well as football games have higher numbers of students drinking heavily because of expectations instilled by the media and alcohol industry.
“(There’s) this culture that magnifies the role that alcohol plays on campus, and what we would like to do is right-size it,” Desprez said.
Harper, too, noted that students have preconceived notions about drinking in college.
“(Students) can get the impression that everybody drinks, and everybody over-drinks, and that’s really not the case.” Harper said. “Most students, particularly Michigan students, they drink reasonably.”
Harper and Desprez said students’ expectations about drinking in college can be corrected by sending safety messages to students. For the night game, Desprez helped create a public announcement that aired during the Western Michigan game last Saturday, which included former Michigan football player Desmond Howard telling students to “Stay in the Blue” — the University’s slogan to remind students to drink responsibly, with the “blue” referring to a blood alcohol concentration level of .06 or below.
Brandon emphasized that alcohol in the stadium will not be tolerated on Saturday.
“We’re going to put every effort and every resource we can towards making sure that people come to the game with a clear head and a clear mind and that they enter the gates that way,” Brandon said.