If what I read on my social media accounts and in my email inbox are accurate indicators, Mitch Barnhart’s most controversial decision as Kentucky’s athletics director has not been a coaching hire or even a ticket-price increase.
It is the choice not to offer alcohol sales to the general public at UK Wildcats home games.
What the Kentucky AD has described as an effort to maintain a family-friendly environment at University of Kentucky sporting events has raised hackles on two fronts:
1.) It has displeased those who feel a cold brew would enhance their personal enjoyment of watching the Big Blue;
2.) It has angered those who think the fans in the general-seating areas at UK events should be treated the same as the fat cats in the luxury suites — where alcoholic beverages are allowed to be served.
Mitch Barnhart when someone asks if the common folk can have beer pic.twitter.com/00LjhLBgQU
— T.J. Walker (@TJWalkerRadio) July 25, 2021
My opinion on the no beer policy at UK games. Although I’m not a drinker. It should be my choice whether I drink at games or not. Not Mitch Barnhart’s. I like Barnhart, but what a hypocritical policy he has.
— D9NSTY-UK (@scoutingU) August 3, 2019
Late Saturday night, with a remarkable display of unruly behavior at a college football game, Tennessee fans might have demonstrated why Kentucky has held resolute regarding no alcohol sales at its home sporting events.
Protesting UT backers forced nearly a 20-minute stoppage in play late in the Volunteers’ game with then-No. 13 Mississippi. They did so by pelting the Neyland Stadium playing surface with bottles, cans, vape pens — and at least one golf ball and mustard bottle.
The triggered fans were protesting a crucial officiating decision that marked a UT receiver just short of a first down on a fourth-down play late in what became a 31-26 Volunteers loss.
Things got so dangerous that the Tennessee cheerleaders, dance team and “Pride of the Southland” marching band were forced to evacuate the stands to escape the barrage of incoming debris from above them.
Afterward, University of Tennessee Chancellor Donde Plowman issued a statement proclaiming herself “astonished and sickened by the behavior of some Vol fans at the end of tonight’s game.”
I am astonished and sickened by the behavior of some Vol fans at the end of tonight’s game. Good sportsmanship must be part of who we are as Volunteers. Behavior that puts student-athletes, visitors and other fans at risk is not something we will tolerate. 1/2
— Donde Plowman (@DondePlowman) October 17, 2021
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, in his own statement, declared “the actions of fans at Saturday night’s game (at Neyland Stadium) were unacceptable under any circumstances.”
— Southeastern Conference (@SEC) October 17, 2021
The SEC announced Monday that the University of Tennessee will be assessed a financial penalty ($250,000) and must meet a list of requirements set forth by the commissioner before its next home game.
Plowman said University of Tennessee campus police are working to identify those who threw debris on the playing field so they can face consequences for their actions. According to media reports from Knoxville, 18 people have so far been arrested and 47 were ejected from the stadium for their behavior.
Here is the question about Saturday’s near-riot at UT that pertains to Kentucky: Would the scary fan meltdown at Neyland Stadium have happened to the extent it did if Tennessee did not sell beer at games?
There is, obviously, no way to know for sure.
Before the controversial spot of the football, Tennessee fans were already upset over the officials calling back a Volunteers touchdown in the first quarter.
The return to Knoxville of Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin, who had bailed on UT after spending one season (2009) as the Vols’ head man, meant the game started with emotions running hot.
Saturday night’s fiasco has led some to proclaim Tennessee’s as the worst fan base in college football.
That is painting with an overly broad brush, but it is unquestionably true that there is an angry segment of Rocky Top supporters who have given in to a bottomless persecution complex during UT’s decade-plus run of pigskin mediocrity.
It’s time for Mitch Barnhart to take Tennessee’s beer away
— BEEZY (@Burke_Franklin_) October 17, 2021
How one views the merits of Kentucky’s decision not to offer alcohol sales comes down, to large degree, to a matter of personal taste.
I don’t like the taste of beer. One of my least favorite things in the world is being around the intoxicated and the mouthy at sporting events.
So UK’s decision not to sell alcohol at its games is fine with me.
It is harder to argue in favor of the double standard Kentucky operates under of having one rule about alcohol use at ballgames for the well-to-do and a different one for everyone else.
Obviously, thousands upon thousands of sports events takes place in the United States where alcohol is sold to attendees and there are no significant issues with fan comportment.
But what went down in Neyland Stadium on Saturday night again at least raises the question of whether alcohol sales at college sports contests are worth the risk that arises in the rare exceptions to the above fact.
— Joe Kyle (@JFKyle2) October 17, 2021
You have an event where extreme emotions are unleashed.
You are in a setting where being part of a large group diffuses feelings of individual responsibility.
And you have a lot of college-aged people in attendance, many of whom are still learning how to develop and exhibit good judgment under stress.
During those scenarios, is it wise to widely make available substances whose use can lower one’s inhibitions and self-control?
In that context, what happened at UT on Saturday night likely buttresses those who want UK to hold the line against beer sales at Wildcats ballgames.