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Beer for all Jacks and Yotes fans at games? Leaders discuss possible changes

Published: Nov. 29, 2021 at 8:01 PM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - To beer or not to beer?

That is the question for South Dakota State Jackrabbit and South Dakota Coyote fans concerning alcohol sales at on-campus sporting events, along with those who root on Northern State and Black Hills State.

The state’s Board of Regents will discuss the topic next Wednesday and Thursday at its December meetings.

It’s happening because the South Dakota State student association last week called on the Regents to do so. Right now in South Dakota, only people in box suite and lounge areas are allowed to drink alcohol at athletic and performing arts events at public universities. If students had it their way, it would expand those sales to the general public, the same way it has at some public universities in neighboring North Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa.

“We need to understand how this has worked in other places, what the pros and cons are, what affect has on public safety, what affect it has on revenue at the stadiums, just weigh all those things,” regent Tony Venhuizen said.

And there two distinctly different answers to “to beer or not to beer” from athletics directors at private, faith-based schools in Sioux Falls who have already decided their alcohol policies for the time being.

“I think people were happy,” Augustana athletics director said of the school’s first full season with a “beer garden” at football games after a one-game trial in 2019. “They were happy to be able to go there, have an adult beverage, be under control, be in a safe environment, and be adults.”

Augie is also going into its third year of beer sales at basketball and wrestling events at the Sanford Pentagon. Morton would not say how much revenue it brought the school, and isn’t sure if it caused more people to show up.

“We didn’t do it just to make money,” Morton said. “We did it because it’s something we feel like we can do in a safe environment. It adds to the fan experience. We’re always trying to find ways to increase the fan experience and this was one step that we felt was a good step to take.

“We learned a lot. Pairing with JJ’s Wine and Spirits is huge, because they handle the licensing, they handle the carding and serving. That’s what they do, so let the experts do what they do. Safety-wise we had no big issues.”

Two blocks away at the University of Sioux Falls, “it’s really not been on our radar,” said A.D. Pam Gohl. “We’re not judging anybody else who is considering those choices or gone down that path, it’s just not something we’re not considering that right now.”

The Cougars play their home football games off-campus, four miles away at Bob Young Field. Home hoops contests on-campus at The Stewart Center. Regardless of the venue, Gohl said the potential problems alcohol sales would bring are not worth it.

“Sometimes choices are (made) and words are said that are not very appropriate or nice or very understanding,” Gohl said, “and I would just say that for us, the type of (non-alcoholic) atmosphere that we’re going for on our campus is one that is more appealing.”

Morton said he has received zero complaints of belligerent behavior at Augie events that sell alcohol, and cited numerous studies of over 100 colleges that have shown a decrease in alcohol-related arrests on campuses that sell booze at the venues.

Athletic directors at both South Dakota and South Dakota State told Dakota News Now they are advocates for general public beer sales - as both a way to compete with other professional sports teams and arts/music events for the area’s entertainment dollars, and to generate several different revenue streams for the athletic departments at schools.

They’re both convinced alcohol can be consumed and regulated in the same safe way Augustana has already pulled off.

USD’s David Herbster said the alcohol sales in corporate and booster hospitality areas has gone without a hitch, and that process has provided a step in the “slow roll” approach to beer becoming available for the masses.

SDSU’s Justin Sell said only allowing a “premium” sector of the population to partake in alcohol at games doesn’t seem to be aligned with what a “public” institution is supposed to be about.

But both emphasized their final stance on alcohol sales will align whatever the Regents decide.

There will be no vote on the matter at the December 8-9 meetings, but the mere discussion figures to be a significant step in the direction of “to beer.”

““Society has changed in some ways on how we view some of these things, and we need to just consider that and see how we can improve,” Vanhuizen said.

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