Varner Hall is seen where the University of Nebraska Board of Regents regularly meet.
Photo Courtesy of University of Nebraska

LINCOLN — The University of Nebraska Board of Regents amended its policies on Feb. 11 in a first step to allowing alcohol sales at more athletic events, beginning with the Big Ten Wrestling Championships at Pinnacle Bank Arena on March 5 and 6.

The regents voted 7-0 in favor of the changes. District 4 Regent Elizabeth O’Connor was not in attendance. 

“I think this makes a lot of sense and is a practical first step if we ever decide to go down the path of allowing alcohol at additional university athletic events,” University of Nebraska President Ted Carter said.

No proposals are on the table for future events, according to a news release, and Carter said alcohol will not be sold in Memorial Stadium this fall.

The approved policy changes delegate the authority to allow alcohol to the NU president and each chancellor of their respective campus. These officials will then determine if sales should be allowed, which must be in accordance with the Nebraska Liquor Control Act.

Carter said the policy proposal came only after a great deal of thoughtfulness and moved to ensure consistency across all NU campuses. For example, alcohol sales are permitted for hockey and both men’s and women’s basketball at the University of Nebraska Omaha but are prohibited at almost all other events.

“Frankly, our 20-plus year policy prohibiting alcohol at university athletic events is essentially irrelevant,” Carter said, pointing to alcohol sales that continued at Baxter Arena in Omaha. “It makes much more sense for us to all be following the same policy.”

In 1999, regents adopted a resolution stating it is unlawful for anyone to consume alcohol at any intercollegiate athletic event on campus, according to the meeting agenda. Carter said NU has had a “piecemeal approach” toward that policy, which became inefficient.

NU may also now promote alcohol on university property with the policy authorizing the use of university trademarks, logos, slogans or other identifiers, though mascots would be prohibited.

Carter promised his fellow regents no decision for alcohol would be rushed and that he and the chancellors would only approve alcohol if they feel it is in the right direction for NU. He said such decisions would also be presented to the board.

“So even though you may approve to give me that authority, I am committed to you that I will not abuse that authority without bringing it back before you,” he said. “I think that’s important.”

District 5 Regent Rob Schafer said he’s a strong believer that adults should be treated as adults and allowed to make their own decisions, including when it comes to alcohol.

Chris Wagner, the executive director of Project Extra Mile, an organization advocating for evidence-based policies to prevent and reduce alcohol-related harms, testified against the proposal and encouraged regents to postpone the vote.

Wagner said he appeared on behalf of more than 500 Nebraskans against the changes and thanked the regents for the proposal that prohibited alcohol 20 years prior.

“I would argue that while you may see growth in revenues from this decision, you will also see growth in binge drinking, growth in underage drinking,” he said. “You will also see growth in alcohol-related crashes in the community.” 

Alcohol access at these events will lead to underage drinking no matter what, Wagner said. He said individuals of legal age could purchase alcohol at concessions and bring them to seating areas where it would be almost impossible to ensure those drinks are not passed to minors.

NU is already nearing 400 consecutive sellouts without alcohol sales, and Wagner said alcohol isn’t needed to boost attendance.

“We don’t need this, and I would urge you to consider the other side of the coin when you’re making these decisions,” Wagner said.

Vice Chair Tim Clare voted in support but highlighted that NU must ensure it has the opportunity to control sales and consumption. Other issues also must be addressed, like how to curb binge drinking, Clare said.

UNO Student Regent Maeve Hemmer, speaking on behalf of University of Nebraska-Lincoln Student Regent Batool Ibrahim who was absent on Friday, said student safety would remain a priority. If alcohol sales are expanded, students who decide to drink could be monitored in the approved venues rather than drinking before and driving to the games.

As NU considers future alcohol sales, Carter said all factors must be considered.

“Opening our events to alcohol would be a decision we would make only after considering all parts of the equation,” Carter said. “Is there a business case there? Are there right safety protocols and infrastructure in place? Is it in the best interest of our fans? Is it in the best interest of the University of Nebraska?”

Zach Wendling is a senior journalism and political science double major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln focused on political, policy and governance reporting. He is the spring 2023 intern for the Nebraska Examiner and has been published in publications across the state as part of the Nebraska News Service. Wendling interned for The Hill and The News Station in Washington, D.C. and worked for The Daily Nebraskan at UNL. He is one of the founding members and inaugural president of UNL's new campus chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.