Tailgating gone wild in Iowa City

 

 

Kinnick Stadium parking lot. ~Photo by Robbie Lehman

University and City officials look to rebuild what has become a rocky relationship with Hawkeye football fans.

By Robbie Lehman

Making changes

On August 16, the University of Iowa, working alongside Iowa City Police, launched the “Think Before You Drink” campaign, a “new initiative aimed at making the game-day experience exciting and safe for all fans,” which outlined several new rule changes in regards to tailgating.

However, university officials tweaked the original policy changes after receiving negative feedback from fans following the first home game.

The most prominent problems with tailgating involve alcohol—underage students consuming it, violent behavior from fans and people driving under the influence after games.

“Our fans are the nation’s best—they are enthusiastic and respectful of others,” Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said in the August 16 news release. “Many of our fans consume alcohol on game days, and they do so responsibly. However, a small minority drink too much and cause problems for themselves and others. To those folks, we say, ‘Please think before you drink. Don’t put a black eye on the black and gold.’”

University Spokesman Tom Moore said President Mason personally received at least 50 emails from upset students, fans and Iowa City residents in response to the weekend of September 4, in which Iowa opened the 2010 season against Eastern Illinois with a 37-7 win.

A total of 146 citations were handed out by Iowa City Police that day.

Due to backlash, university officials sent a September 9 news release that altered the tailgating policy for the second time. Postgame alcohol consumption was increased to two hours in university areas, while all postgame tailgating activities must cease three hours after game’s end.

Reasons behind the changes

Officials said the initial review of tailgating and the game day atmosphere really began after the 2009 football season, which was scattered with numerous incidents involving alcohol.

The Hawkeyes made a historic run a year ago, beginning the season 9-0 for the first time ever. With that naturally came increased excitement among Iowa fans, but also increased the number of problems related to irresponsible tailgating by students and adults.

UI officials wanted to make the tailgating policy change before the 2010 season, which boasted a highly anticipated home schedule that included a rivalry game against Iowa State, plus marquee matchups with traditional Big-Ten Conference powerhouses Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State.

Jim Swift, an Iowa football letterman from 1976-79, has parked in the Kinnick Stadium lot for five years. He said the new policies seemed a little excessive.

“I understand what they’re after, obviously they don’t want people drinking and driving, which is fine, nobody wants people drinking and driving,” Swift said. “But it’s kind of like the society as a whole today. We create all these rules that apply to just a few people that penalize all the people.”

Swift, who was an honorary captain for the Sept. 11 game against Iowa State, drives to Hawkeye games from Des Moines and said he enjoys hanging around after games with friends and family, whether consuming alcohol or not.

“I think the university and the city of Iowa City could have made a more gradual shift away from their current policies that evolved over a period of time to really just flipping the switch off against having that social atmosphere,” said Swift, who pays just under $10,000 per season to park in the Kinnick Stadium lot.

Related issues

Another topic that relates to the problems with tailgating is the Iowa City City Council’s passage of a law which prohibits citizens under the age of 21 to be in a drinking establishment past 10 p.m. In the past, persons above 19 could enter bars. On November 2, the city voted to uphold the 21-only-law for the next two years but a 52/48 percent margin.

Lone Tree, Iowa native and 22-year-old student Mike Close understands the crackdown on enforcing alcohol policies during tailgating.

“I think since the bars aren’t 19 anymore, that’s where a lot of the kids think they can get away with partying. So cops and the university want to step it up to prove that they’re on it no matter what.”

The tailgating policy changes comes at a time when the city of Iowa City and the University of Iowa are both looking to clean up their respective images, which have stereotypes of high underage and binge drinking.

But these aren’t just stereotypes, however—a survey by the Princeton Review ranked the University of Iowa as the No. 9 Top American Party Schools for 2010-11.

Barta seemed to agree with Swift in a statement from the September 9 news release, and he acknowledged that the original policy changes were a bit over the top.

“We know that 95 percent of fans attending Hawkeye games act responsibly,” Barta said. “And we greatly appreciate that… We made some mistakes last Saturday. I’m grateful the university as a group rolled up our collective sleeves and worked hard to make adjustments and improvements leading into this Saturday.

“We’ll need everyone’s help to try to achieve these goals.”

The future of tailgating

Tom Rocklin, vice president for student services, said the main objective of either policy change is safety.

“The University of Iowa is not interested in prohibiting the consumption of alcohol on game days,” Rocklin said. “However, we are firmly committed to doing what we can to prevent unsafe and illegal consumption because that contributes to a positive experience for everyone.”

The university has not released any information regarding tailgating since the statement on September 8. The public has also demonstrated a somewhat positive reaction to the one-hour tailgating extension.

For the time being, the future of Iowa tailgating seems relatively safe.

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