Sunday, September 03, 2006

New rule forbids drinking at tailgates during Penn State games

TATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) - Hoping to cut down on underage drinking and create a safer post-game environment, Penn State is banning alcohol at parking lot tailgate parties during football games inside Beaver Stadium.

Imbibing before kickoff and after the final whistle, though? Still OK.

The policy change had been under discussion since the end of last football season, and one impetus was the increasing number of alcohol-related trips to the emergency room by students, university spokesman Bill Mahon said Friday.

Last year, 353 students went to the emergency room for treatment, up from 229 in 2004 and 175 the previous year, Mahon said.

"Home football Saturdays are among the heaviest days for emergency room visits," he said. Twenty-five students were taken to the hospital after Penn State's home win last October over Ohio State, which ended late at night.

Penn State got complaints from some fans and visitors. School officials met with borough and campus leaders "trying to figure out what we could to do bring a little more sanity" to game days, Mahon said.

Police also plan to have a more visible presence during games. Police services director Steve Shelow said many underage fans leave a game early because of too much alcohol - or they may not even make it into the stadium at all.

"With increasing frequency ... a number of fans are coming to the tailgate areas with no intention of attending the football game. They have no interest in supporting the team inside the stadium and are simply utilizing the parking lot areas for group parties," athletic director Tim Curley said in a statement.

Reaction was mixed Friday outside Beaver Stadium from fans already awaiting Saturday's season opener against Akron.

"I think it's a pretty good rule," said Charley Aurand, 69, of Harrisburg, a can of beer in his hand as he leaned on a fence at the overnight RV lot outside the stadium. "It will prevent people who just want to come up to party."

The new rule covers all lots, though drinking during games may not be as much of a problem in the RV area - which is usually filled with older fans and families - than in the regular lots around the stadium, where students and younger alumni are more likely to spend time.

Dan Clark, 19, of State College, said he didn't think the new rule would discourage fans from coming to the game. Clark was bracing one of about a dozen tents set up Friday in front of the student gate at the stadium as campers prepared for a drenching rainstorm to hit State College. The makeshift tent city is dubbed "Paternoville" after veteran coach Joe Paterno.

Clark said, however, that he doubted that the rule would cut down on underage drinking. He said students who tailgate but don't attend the game might be induced to drink more before kickoff, or go downtown to a bar to watch a game and then return to the parking lot.

"If they are so concerned about underage drinking, why not cut down on drinking before and after games?" Clark asked.

Drinking alcohol is prohibited inside the stadium, though fans said it's not uncommon for people to sneak in beer or a flask of vodka.

David Estep, 52, of Abbotstown, an RV camper, said he meets friends to socialize during game weekends "but we're not here to get blitzed." He said he didn't think it was a serious enough issue to warrant a blanket rule change.

"It needs to be done on an individual basis, but it's not an issue," he said. "You don't need to fix what ain't broken."

Mahon said police are trying to stop the drinking they see, but even with the increased police presence, the limited number of officers outside the stadium during games might be more apt to stop "a large group of people with a pyramid of Bud Light cases."

©2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved.