Media & Marketing and Sports Business

SPORTS: IU getting it right where tailgating is concerned

September 19, 2005

My alma mater, Indiana University, has taken its share of licks in recent times. In fact, I've used this space to throw some of the punches.

But its recent decision-coinciding with the start of football season-to try to oust the party animals from the jungle just south of Memorial Stadium on game days was prudent, correct and too long in coming.

This, folks, has been a human and legal calamity waiting to happen.

The "jungle" is a park-like area across 17th Street from the stadium that is used for parking on game days.

To be sure, folks-mostly younger ones-were using the area to park. But after they parked their vehicles, they also parked their butts with absolutely no intention to walk across the street and attend the game. Instead, they staged elaborate day-long parties, complete with loud music and, without question, enormous amounts of booze and other substances (its description as a "grassy" area has double meaning).

True, some fans used the area for pre- and post-game tailgates, and did attend the game. But at least as many were using the occasion of the nearby football game as an excuse to congregate and get wasted.

Two years ago, following the Purdue game, the party-down crowd was in full swill as the game attendees returned to their vehicles. One bozo had turned an area into his personal mudbog for his truck (thank God he didn't lose control and plow into the bystanders). Anyway, tempers flared, and a fight broke out. The police had to be called in. One was struck in the head with a beer bottle-by a 24-year-old non-student.

Last year, following the Minnesota game, there were two fights, and once again the cops had to be called in to restore order.

Fast forward to this year. Before the home season-opener against Nicholls State University, IU officials said people would no longer be able to stay and party once the game began. They could either enter the stadium, or they would be required to go.

Yet, somehow, the decision has been portrayed in Indianapolis and elsewhere as one in which IU has banned tailgating and that no one will be allowed in any of the stadium parking areas without game tickets.

That is not the case. University officials accept that some fans arrive without game tickets with the intent of purchasing them on site. Walk-up sales for Nicholls State exceeded 2,000. No one is being turned away at parking lot entrances if they don't have tickets in hand.

However.

"We do expect people who are using our lots to attend the game," said Kit Klingelhoffer, IU's assistant athletic director for game management. "And we're doing it for no other reason than the safety of our fans and our law enforcement officers."

It also should be noted that IU student groups played a role in the formation of the new policy.

Indiana's policy is consistent with most universities in the Big Ten and around the country. The University of Notre Dame, for example, has a policy more strict than IU's.

Common sense would tell you the potential for liability has caused many, if not most, universities to re-examine their tailgating policies. Some have banned the open use of alcohol on university property altogether.

Michigan State University, for example, is prohibiting alcohol in Munn Field, a huge tailgating area. Why? Because the party was out of control. Problems included public urination and students playing drinking games, throwing beer bottles, vomiting, setting fires and damaging cars.

Understand, I'm no saint, nor am I a teetotaler. I know for a fact that my tailgating buddy, Jim, makes one terrific Bloody Mary. Tailgating is a great American tradition, and no one should have any problem with it as long as folks behave responsibly.

Indiana's policy isn't aimed at those who do. It's aimed at those who won't.

A final note

The passing of the pride of Bippus-Chris Schenkel-was duly noted last week in media outlets around America, including a nice segment at halftime of "Monday Night Football." In sportscasting, he was both a pioneer and an icon.

It was my pleasure to know and interview Schenkel several times during my newspaper career. He was, above all, a gentleman. He always treated others as if they were special in his eyes, not vice versa.

The man who traveled the world many times covering sports never forgot his Indiana roots. He was the best of what it means to be a Hoosier. And, oh, that baritone voice.



Benner is a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com.
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