Oliver Luck was hired as athletic director at West Virginia University for the same reason that anyone hires an athletic director: to administer the department to successes on the field and do it spending less money than is coming in each year. Sure, the actual job description is much more complicated than that, but that one sentence gets close to the heart of the task heaped upon Luck in Morgantown. And while simply defined, it is far from easily completed.
To run an annual budget surplus, Luck and the Mountaineer Athletic Department must generate revenue. To do that, we must sell something. Whether that be television rights through the conference, tickets, luxury boxes, rights to put the flying WV on t-shirts, or pretzels at the concession stand, a product must be going out the door and money must be replacing it inside the WVU Coliseum's athletic offices. In West Virginia, selling a product isn't exactly easy.
Compared to other schools in major conferences, WVU is a small school in a small state with a small war chest. While Morgantown might be included in the Pittsburgh market through creative means, the fact remains that this state only contains 1.85 million people, and those people boast the 48th ranked median income in the country. Creative means prove necessary when the underlying set of circumstances do not lie in your favor. That is a situation Luck is faced with -- to generate funds through any reasonable means necessary.
But does selling beer at Mountaineer Field meet that test? In a word: yes.
I have long advocated that selling beer at Mountaineer Field would actually lessen rowdy fan behavior. There is very little standing in the way of a regular fan sneaking booze into the stadium. That is true now and will be true even if beer sales are approved by the Board of Governors. What might change, however, is beer sales acting as a deterrent to some from taking advantage of that smuggling opportunity. Speaking from my own point of view, I can say I would be less likely to bring liquor into the stadium -- which I have done before -- if I know I can purchase beer instead. It saves a headache, both figuratively and literally (because brown liquor does that to you).
Not all fans will share my viewpoint. Listening to Talkline with Hoppy Kercheval this morning, that became crystal clear. Anecdotal stories of the horror persuasion were relentlessly recounted. Fears of being vomited on or cursed out were thrown about like it was nothing. That may happen, but it's not going to happen solely because beer is available inside the stadium.
Dave Poe, the sports editor for the Parkersburg News-Sentinel (and a writer I especially respect, though our views diverge here), shares their fears.
So now WVU is going to allow those who already have had a few or a few too many to increase their level of intoxication once they are inside the stadium.
The fans that want to increase their level of intoxication will do so regardless of WVU alcohol policy. No fan, regularly 100% sober at games, is going to decide to all of a sudden drink 10 beers because they're now being sold. That type of fan was drinking that much to begin with and beer wasn't even being sold. While that fan will continue to do that, there may be a fan or two who, instead of the much more potent smuggled liquor will instead turn to beer and not become so unruly. He (or she) might feel less compelled to "get a running start" in the parking lot, knowing they can continue a small buzz throughout the game.
Beyond theory, I have no way of actually proving those beliefs. Truly, other than reported fan incidents recorded by event staff and Morgantown or University police, it will be very difficult to prove it after the fact, even from Oliver Luck. But even if fan behavior doesn't improve, the added revenue sales will greatly help the athletic department's coffers. If fan behavior just stays the same, this will be a huge win for the Mountaineer program.
Some fans opposition to selling beer at Mountaineer Field is another example of us standing in our own way. The older crowd is making excuses about what could potentially go wrong, while ignoring all the things that make sense about this proposal. Appalachian conservatism (or fatalism, as is often the case) leads to an all-too-easy wagging of fingers blaming the faceless drunk as the problem of Mountaineer Field. This proposal fits neatly into that box, allowing some fans to quickly dismiss it. Examining the idea more completely, however, shows that it makes sense. Our athletic director has reached the same conclusion.
And if fan behavior worsens significantly? While I don't believe that will happen, I trust that Oliver Luck, a capable manager with a wealth of athletics experience, will make the correct decision for our university.