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No to beer at Byrd

Here's what happens at University of Maryland football games now:

Many students pre-game (a term used generically for getting drunk before going to a party or event that in this case takes on a literal cast) outside the stadium. Some are over 21, some are not. They go inside for the game, and many leave at halftime to drink more, lest the buzz wear off. Due to a recent policy change, they're not allowed back inside the stadium, but that doesn't dissuade everyone. As student body president Patrick Ronk told The Sun's Jeff Barker "for some people, drinking is more important than the actual game."

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Here's what would happen at University of Maryland football games if the school agrees to a proposal to allow beer and wine sales in the stadium:

Students will pre-game outside the stadium. Some will be over 21, some will not. They will go inside for the game, and those who are over 21 will pay exorbitant prices for beer. (Wine, we're guessing not so much.) The university will enact policies designed to make sure that none of that alcohol falls into the hands of those who aren't of age, and that no one is served too much. But the ingenuity of college students being what it is when it comes to alcohol, no system will be perfect, and in any case, those who would have left at halftime to drink more before will still do so.

The big difference here is that the university will be getting a cut of the action.

According to USA Today, Southern Methodist University "netted a six-figure windfall" from a trial run of selling alcohol at just 12 basketball games. ESPN reported last fall that West Virginia University clears more than a half-million dollars a year from alcohol sales at football games. The University of Minnesota made $181,000 in profits from beer sales in the 2013 season, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Troy University, a school of about 7,000 students in southeastern Alabama, expected a $200,000 windfall from beer sales at football games, ESPN says.

It's still a small minority of universities that allow alcohol sales at athletic events. USA Today compiled a list of 21 such schools last fall, and most of them aren't big name programs. In most cases, campus officials describe revenue as the primary driver of the decision to start serving alcohol, with the effect on campus drinking culture a secondary issue.

In Maryland, things are developing a bit differently. Alcohol is already sold in luxury suites at Byrd Stadium and Xfinity Center, and the proposal to expand sales originated from students who are pitching it as a way to create a more responsible drinking atmosphere. Moreover, University President Wallace Loh is promising that if he approves the proposal (which would also need the support of the county liquor board), the money would not go to the athletic department but to "campus-wide student support activities such as mental health services, responsible drinking initiatives and diversity training."

In press reports on schools that have already made this switch, athletics department officials generally report no significant change one way or the other in alcohol-related problems as gauged by arrests, ejections and other such measures. But considering the magnitude of such problems on college campuses, no significant change isn't exactly a ringing endorsement. A 2010 study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependency found a more than five-fold increase in the number of alcohol-related arrests on college football game days compared to "control days" with no football games or even compared to holidays like St. Patrick's Day.

That was just one of many pieces of evidence proffered by Amelia M. Arria and David Jernigan, public health professors at the University of Maryland and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg school, respectively, in a letter to the athletic department opposing the proposal. The pair cautioned against relying on anecdotal reports from colleges that have made this switch and noted a dearth of scientifically valid research on the matter. But what research does exist suggests the policy would have the opposite of its desired effect. Not only is there a wide body of research showing that increasing the availability of alcohol is correlated with increased consumption, they wrote, but a study published in the Journal of American College Health found massive decreases in the negative consequences of alcohol abuse at the University of Colorado at Boulder stopped selling alcohol and banned its consumption at football games. "Ejections dropped 50 percent in the first year, arrests fell by 45 percent, and student referrals to the judicial affairs office decreased by 89 percent," they wrote.

If Mr. Loh wants to generate a nice chunk of change, he should approve the proposal, which was endorsed 16-1 by the university's Athletic Council. But he shouldn't pretend it will do anything to help reduce binge drinking on campus, no matter how he earmarks the money.

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