A decade after Roy Williams dismissed the ACC tournament as “a huge cocktail party,” that’s exactly what the ACC tournament will be this year.
After selling beer and wine in the stands of Bank of America Stadium during the ACC Football Championship Game for the first time in December without significant incident, the ACC confirmed it will allow beer and wine sales throughout Washington, D.C.’s Verizon Center in March and at Durham Bulls Athletic Park during the baseball tournament in May.
The ACC approved the new policy for the football title game and basketball and baseball tournaments this fall, but only the football change was formally announced in November.
While alcohol has been served in private suites, exclusive hospitality areas and outside the arena for at least two decades, the ACC basketball tournament has always been, for the vast majority of attendees, a dry event.
The change represents the influence of two different, but not unrelated, trends. The first is the ACC’s general desire to increase revenue, and permitting alcohol sales is becoming more common in college sports for that reason. The other is the different experiences of the schools that joined the ACC from the former Big East over the past decade.
The old Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden was always a boozy affair, with a beer or two in the concourse as much a part of the experience as standing in line at Stamey’s is for ACC fans. Louisville and Syracuse sell alcohol at home football and basketball games. That different perspective meant a larger portion of the ACC’s membership was willing to explore alcohol sales than in the past.
Still, this isn’t about parched Big East alumni pushing to pop the cap after two mostly dry trips to Greensboro. Five o’clock comes earlier than it used to in the old ACC as well.
While North Carolina law prohibits most on-campus alcohol sales at public universities, when what is now called PNC Arena was being built off campus in the late ’90s, N.C. State took pains to insist alcohol not be served in the building during university events, which was in line with the prevailing regional sentiment at the time.
Now, alcohol is available in private suites at the arena before Wolfpack games and permitted during football games in the Vaughn Towers expansion of Carter-Finley Stadium. In Chapel Hill, North Carolina serves alcohol in the private suites and club areas of the Blue Zone at Kenan Stadium thanks to a special exception written into state law.
Duke has private clubs that serve beer and wine at both Wallace Wade Stadium and Cameron Indoor Stadium, both of which are undergoing substantial expansion to add more suites and club seats with access to alcohol. Even Wake Forest, that old Baptist bastion, sells alcohol in suites and set up a beer tent on the concourse of BB&T Field during football games.
Florida State has always sold beer in the general seating areas of the Tucker Civic Center, its off-campus basketball arena. And what’s true in the ACC is true across college athletics, where there’s a rush to get beer out of the parking lots and into the stadium where schools can take their cut, with the ostensible justification that it’s easier to control reckless drinking when alcohol is purchased within the stadium rather than smuggled into it.
It does make it easier for the ACC to defy decades of convention during a cycle that takes the basketball tournament away from North Carolina, to Washington and Brooklyn over the next three years. By the time the tournament is played again within these borders, in Charlotte in 2019, cups of beer in the seats may seem as much a part of ACC tradition as Notre Dame.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, email@example.com, @LukeDeCock