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Edwards questions beer sales at college stadiums

A bill that would allow beer and wine sales at college stadiums may be sailing through the Legislature, but state Sen. Chuck Edwards is not joining the toast.

The Senate/Higher Education Committee approved the bill on Wednesday; it had already cleared the House in a lopsided 88-24 vote on April 16. The bill now heads to the Senate Commerce Committee. If passed by the Senate, the bill would expand existing legislation while also controlling consumption at NCAA events, such as football games, where drinking is prevalent but unregulated.

Sens. Rick Horner, R-Nash; Chuck Edwards, R-Buncombe; and Norman Sanderson, R-Carteret, spoke out against the move.

“I can’t see that we are helping students by allowing them to purchase alcohol in a stadium,” Edwards said during Wednesday’s committee meeting.

The move applies only to beer and wine — not to spirits or mixed drinks — and depends on approval by respective schools’ boards of trustees.

The bill, which has the support of 14 out of the 15 UNC System schools, would bring NC public universities in line with private schools — such as Wake Forest, Elon and Duke — that are already selling alcohol at athletic games, said Rep. John Bell, a sponsor.

“By giving N.C. public universities the option to sell beer and wine at athletic events, this bill will improve safety and encourage local economic development,” Bell said. “With it already happening at private universities and within premium seating only at public schools, it simply makes sense to give all UNC System schools the choice to sell alcohol to legal-age fans — regardless if they can afford expensive seats.”

UNC-Pembroke was the lone state university that did not sign the letter.

Don Metzger, UNCP Board of Trustees chairman, issued a statement saying the university will continue with existing alcohol policies, the Robesonian reported. Consumption of alcohol is allowed during tailgating activities before Braves football games, but not in the stadium.

“While we respect the intent of our sister institutions and support their efforts, we believe allowing open alcohol sales at our athletic events could potentially send the wrong message to our community,” Metzger said in the statement. “UNC Pembroke does allow tailgating and consumption of alcohol at athletic events for those of legal age under strict university guidelines and policies.”

Statistics show when schools allow the sale of alcohol the number of alcohol related incidents dramatically drop, Bell said in a news release. After allowing alcohol sales in 2011, West Virginia University saw a 35% decrease in such incidents. Ohio State University saw a similar decrease in 2016 — from nearly 300 incidents to about 60 — while also generating $1.2 million in sales.

Sen. Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus, initially opposed the bill but, in his words, spun 180 degrees. “This is actually a good idea that seems to be mitigating the effects of alcohol at athletic events,” he said. “On its face it may seem like a bad idea, but in its substance, it’s actually working.”

Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Guilford, called the measure good, sound policy. “If you get stumbling drunk over $10 beers, you should probably be someplace else, anyway,” he said.