Alcohol at neutral sites?


LITTLE ROCK — Chasing the possibility that War Memorial Stadium might be able to offer something to Arkansas football fans that is unavailable in Razorback Stadium, the unmarked detours included Birmingham, Ala., Jacksonville, Fla., and Arlington, Texas.

Originally, it was believed that War Memorial could sell beer and wine at the concession stands — that the Little Rock venue was exempt from an SEC prohibition because the stadium was not on campus, a neutral site if you will. The War Memorial Stadium Commission explored the alcohol issue last fall and the University of Arkansas’ decision to sell beer and wine to people in club seats at Fayetteville renewed the talk. The topic was supposed to be on the agenda at the commission’s next meeting, probably this month.

At the October meeting, there was some sentiment that more time was needed to plan and some commission members were concerned about maintaining a family atmosphere. On the other side was the push to get more people into the stadium, maybe even those who tailgate and never leave the golf course.

Thinking that Little Rock qualified as a neutral site, I asked if the same umbrella covered AT&T Stadium in Arlington — site of the Arkansas-Texas A&M game on Sept. 27.

Originally, I was told that both games were “SEC-controlled games” and, as such, the sale of beer and wine was covered by the league’s game management policy that says prohibition of sale of alcoholic beverages “shall not apply to private, leased areas in the facility or other areas designated by the SEC.” That is the policy being cited at Arkansas and about a half-dozen other schools in the SEC to sell beer and wine in specific areas.

Later, the SEC office in Birmingham, said games in Little Rock are “Arkansas home games and the applicable conference policies apply.” The Stadium Commission could have occasion to argue the neutral site status of War Memorial if an inevitable clash between the SEC and AT&T goes in favor of the folks in Arlington.

The declaration that Little Rock is a home game for the Razorbacks included this statement: “The Arkansas Texas A&M game is a neutral site game and moving forward the SEC will review its policies as they apply to neutral site games.”

Keep those final dozen words in mind as the path twists and turns back to Arlington and a request concerning policy involving neutral sites. For starters, the SEC is not in control of such games as the Cowboys Classic between LSU and TCU at the start of the 2013 season in Arlington.

It was embarrassing that I had to be reminded that Georgia and Florida play on a neutral site in Jacksonville every year. Asked about the policy regarding that game, SEC associate commissioner Herb Vincent said, “It is my understanding that beer and wine are available in the suite areas only for that game.”

Ditto for the SEC championship game in Atlanta, he said.

My response was to ask specifically about the Arkansas-A&M game, scheduled in Arlington through 2024.

“The policy should be consistent for any neutral site games,” Vincent said. “I don’t know that anyone has ever sought to do anything different than what the policy outlines.”

So, on to the person in charge in Arlington.

“We are planning to operate AT&T Stadium in the same manner as our previous Arkansas vs. Texas A&M football games, which included the sale of alcohol throughout the stadium during the game,” said Brett Daniels, senior director of corporate communications and brand management at the stadium. “We have our standard policies governing the number of drinks per customer, ID required, cut off sales at the end of the third quarter etc.

“We have not been informed of the need to make any changes to that approach,” he said.

Sounds like people in Birmingham will get together with those in Arlington. Maybe they can work something out over a smooth Merlot.

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Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is hking@arkansasnews.com.