For the first time in 10 years, Kansas University will allow football fans to drink alcohol at pre-game tailgate parties on campus.
Chancellor Robert Hemenway announced Thursday the university would allow alcohol consumption for three hours before each home game in the parking lots and grassy areas surrounding Memorial Stadium.
The decision drew praise from football fans, who said it would boost game attendance. KU opens its season at 6 p.m. Saturday against Southwest Missouri State.
"I think people are down about this season, and this will make it more fun hanging out in the sun, having some brews," KU senior Michael Holton said.
State laws prohibit drinking on university campuses except for areas designated by administrators for fund-raising. In this case, KU plans to collect money for the KU Marching Band, and other benefactors may be targeted in the future.
"It's recognized across the nation tailgating is a popular tradition," Athletics Director Al Bohl said. "If you go to a wedding or a reunion or a family function, people can choose to have alcohol or not have it. We're taking this from a responsible standpoint. Hopefully, we can use it to help fill the stadium."
Hemenway was out of town and unavailable for comment Thursday. In a prepared statement, he said the decision came after "listening to the concerns of Jayhawk alumni, students, faculty and staff."
"We are dealing openly and honestly with the issues of alcohol attached to tailgating," he said. "We will assess the effects of this experiment throughout the season. I ask the Jayhawk community, young and old, to demonstrate that we can support a festive college football environment that all Jayhawks can take pride in."
Fans won't be allowed to bring alcohol into the stadium, and no kegs will be allowed.
Alcohol will only be permitted in designated areas. Lawrence Police Sgt. Mike Pattrick said leaving campus with an open container is illegal, and he said patrol officers would be on the lookout for drunken drivers.
KU Public Safety Lt. Schuyler Bailey referred questions about tailgating to the University Relations office.
The new policy is part of Bohl's efforts to boost attendance at football games. As of Thursday evening, 35,000 tickets had been sold to Saturday's game, which is more than every home game last season except the matchup with Kansas State. Stadium capacity is listed at 50,250.
Other pre-game events include "The Zone" near the south end zone, with food, games, pep band, mascots and student-athletes signing autographs.
The athletics department also has booked two bands for each home game. One will play on Campanile Hill, the other near the northwest corner of the stadium. Festivities will begin two hours before kickoff.
"I think it will make a big deal out of the KU games, liven things up, and get people excited about football again," KU junior Ryan Dodd said.
Mindie Dodson, co-owner of Dodson Liquor, 846 Ill., said she didn't expect much difference in her business Saturday. Game days always have been busy, she said, since many fans already have been tailgating at their homes, in private parking lots and illegally in campus lots.
"I view it as KU demonstrating some flexibility and some reality," she said.
But Max Sutherland, executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Kansas, said he feared the new policy would lead to impaired drivers.
"It's a shame it's the way you have to attract people to a football game," he said. "We don't feel the main attraction should be tailgate parties and alcohol. If that's what you have to do to get people to go to a football game, there's something else wrong."
He also said the tailgating would lead to underage drinking.
Jan Mahlios, whose house on Maine Street sits across from Gate 21 at Memorial Stadium, had other worries.
She said football crowds already regularly encroach on her property. Adding legal alcohol to the mix, she said, may make the problem worse.
"There are a fair number of people who are poorly behaved, who throw trash in yards, throw beer over our fence," she said. "We've had people come up the driveway and urinate in the bushes. There's an attitude this becomes public property on game day."