Will Selling Booze at Michigan Universities Curb Binge Drinking Among College Students?

Michigan State and Air Force play an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, in Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

By Kyle Kaminski

July 20, 2023

A new state law allows alcohol to be sold at public university sports venues in Michigan—and state officials say it could actually help stop college students from going overboard on the booze.

LANSING—College football season in Michigan may feel a bit different this year. 

And that’s because legislation signed this week by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer now officially allows all of the state’s 15 public universities (including Michigan State University and the University of Michigan) a chance to sell beer, wine, and liquor before, during and after all sporting events.

In a statement, Whitmer said that allowing liquor licenses to be issued at university sports venues will inevitably make fall evenings at Spartan Stadium and the Big House “more fun.”

But the legislation isn’t just about letting the good times roll. 

Whitmer said the changes are centered on “fairness, safety, and revenue.”

“Authorizing the legal sale of alcohol at sporting events will bring us on equal footing with other universities, help reduce the likelihood of binge drinking before games, and bring in a heck of a lot more revenue that we can use to improve the student experience,” she said in a statement.

Before this week’s legislation was signed into law, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan were the last three universities in the Big Ten to still prohibit booze from being sold at sporting events. Enabling fans to crack cold ones at the game will put Michigan’s universities on equal footing with the others, and inevitably allow them to rake in some additional revenue.

But that’s not all. 

Whitmer said the changes are also geared toward reducing the likelihood of binge drinking. The theory: With open access to booze during the game, students will feel less compelled to guzzle down several drinks in the parking lot before it begins. Instead, they can drink in moderation.

Other universities that have lifted their prohibition on game day alcohol sales—like the Ohio State University did in 2016—have reportedly seen a steep drop in alcohol-related incidents.

State Sen. Sean McCann (D-Kalamazoo), who sponsored the bill, has also said that drinking alcohol during the game is simply “part of the fan experience” of watching college sports. 

“It is a basic issue of equality to patrons,” McCann said in a statement. “Why should VIPs get to enjoy the beverage of their choice and other attendees not? This levels the playing field.”

The new law specifically allows universities to receive liquor licenses for up to 100 days each year for all intercollegiate athletic events, as well as five days of the year for other events. The University of Nebraska is now the only Big Ten school that prohibits booze at its games. 

In other booze news…

Whitmer also signed legislation this week that made permanent the pandemic-era allowances in state law which enabled restaurants and other businesses to serve carryout cocktails. State Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Detroit) said those to-go orders have continued to be popular among customers—so they’re worth keeping around in perpetuity to help support local businesses.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” McMorrow said. “We’ve heard from so many restaurant owners that this additional revenue stream became a lifeline that kept them in business … Cheers to my colleagues and the Governor for recognizing a good thing when we see it.”

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Follow Political Correspondent Kyle Kaminski here.

Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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