With ETSU’s football games moving from Thursdays to Saturdays this season, it seems that the pre-kickoff fun could amp up this year. However, ETSU’s tailgating policy differs from that of nearby “party” schools in ways that could prevent the festivities from reaching a new high and creating the game day vibe people expect.
The ETSU Tailgating Guidelines on the university’s website list explicitly that “no alcoholic beverages of any kind are permitted.” Granted, alcohol is not a necessary part of any party or social event, but football has a strong cultural association with alcoholic drinks (especially beer).
By extending the strict “dry campus” policy to tailgating, ETSU introduces an unnecessary restriction to its non-student fans.
To offer a comparison, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville’s Fan Code of Conduct says only that fans shall “not become inebriated or belligerent.” The Code says nothing else on alcohol, other than that it is not allowed to be brought into the stadium.
Similarly, Middle Tennessee State University’s policy skirts as close to allowing alcohol as the Tennessee Board of Regents will allow: “no alcoholic beverages of any kind are permitted on the MTSU Campus.” The wording makes it clear that tailgaters are, however, allowed to have adult beverages if they are off-campus.
In an ideal world, TBR would be more flexible in its regulations. A less strict policy could allow its universities to create the kind of fan excitement and involvement that UT has reached.
There is another important difference between ETSU and UT that I have not addressed: ETSU football plays its home games on a high school campus. The university does not necessarily have the power to change the alcohol policy of the high school, and I’m not going to argue that they should be given this right.
For those of us hoping that our university could develop the same pre-kickoff atmosphere as a UT football game, I think our best hope is to encourage university officials to work with the City of Johnson City to set up an off-campus tailgating zone where fans could cheer on the Bucs.
Such an area would allow fans to connect and meet, drinking whatever they want. Much like First Friday and any of the many festivals hosted in Johnson City, game days could become another chance for the community to come together. This is really how you grow a fan base. Cheering on our team is great, but in the end, isn’t it all really just another way to connect with each other?
To grow this atmosphere of community, ETSU’s tailgating policy needs to take a step back and let the football community connect as it will. If it chooses to consume alcohol in a responsible way, ETSU should not be there to stop it.