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Starkey: West Virginia Mountain-beers

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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Wait a minute — alcohol helps people control their behavior?

Who knew?

The startling discovery comes to us via West Virginia University, not from distinguished medical researcher Dr. Julian Bailes but from athletic director Oliver Luck, who believes introducing beer sales at football games will help create a "safer, friendlier and more civil game-day experience." On Friday, the school's Board of Governors bought Luck's logic and by a 10-5 vote approved the sale of beer at sporting events.

Next on their agenda: free seminars on how to safely mix gasoline with fire.

This idea is so bad, it's hard to know where to begin. Let's start with the true motivation: tapping sudsy revenue streams. Beer sales at football games could contribute more than $1 million annually to the athletic department.

Contrary to the ridiculous rationale being tossed around, selling beer will not keep people from imbibing as much at tailgate parties or from smuggling the alcohol of their choice into games (football fans have discovered cell phone flasks, you know). It could, however, put a new twist on a familiar cheer ...

Let's gooooooo Mountain-beers!

It's nice that no beer sales will occur near the student sections, that customers will be limited to a two-beer purchase, that sales will be cut off in the third quarter and that fans no longer will be permitted to leave at halftime and return.

None of it changes the inconvenient truth: Alcohol and WVU sports don't mix.

The school's football coach-in-waiting, Dana Holgorsen, was escorted from a casino May 18, reportedly because he was intoxicated and unruly. The basketball coach, Bob Huggins, lost his job at Cincinnati earlier this decade after pleading no contest to a DUI charge.

Adding gasoline to the fire: WVU last year was rated the nation's No. 4 party school by The Princeton Review — a designation the Board of Governors likely doesn't tout — and its fan base is sometimes viewed, unfairly, as a disorderly mob.

Truth is, WVU fans are a passionate lot. They create an electric atmosphere at football and basketball games, and the school has worked hard to shed its reputation for wild football celebrations like the one that saw 140 street fires spark up after a 2003 win over Virginia Tech.

On-campus drinking is a fact of life everywhere, as is drinking at football games. But a university has no business joining the party. Maybe that is why, when WVU's board solicited public opinion on beer sales, 232 of 300 respondents (77 percent) opposed the idea.

Maybe that is why nearly every school at five of the six BCS conferences forbid beer sales in general-seating areas. It's different in the Big Yeast, though a few schools still smartly resist selling alcohol anywhere besides luxury suites. One is Pitt, which would be wise to continue its policy, given the rash of alcohol-fueled incidents involving its football team last season.

As for WVU, expect the athletic director and board to continue to rationalize their money grab.

Lots of Luck.

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