NASHVILLE — Alcohol sales at Tennessee public higher education sports stadiums and arenas are now legal after Gov. Bill Lee last week signed into law a bill passed last month by state lawmakers.
But while University of Tennessee at Chattanooga officials have shown interest in taking advantage of the change for non-athletic events at McKenzie Arena, "no definite decision" has yet been made on whether to do so, according to UTC officials.
And don't hold your breath on seeing beer and wine at the Mocs basketball team's McKenzie home games, also permissible under the new law.
Chancellor Steve Angle "would prefer not to sell alcohol at arena games," according to UTC officials.
The new law doesn't apply to Finley Stadium where the Mocs football team plays its Southern Conference home games. Located off campus, the stadium is owned and operated by a private nonprofit group. But alcohol is already available there in restricted fashion for general admission attendees.
As the bill was moving through the legislature in March, Richard Brown, UTC's executive vice chancellor for finance and administration, said the university was interested in the possibility of selling alcohol at non-sport entertainment events at the 12,000-seat McKenzie.
"Absolutely," Brown said. "I think it makes McKenzie Arena more competitive and attractive to clients who come in and utilize the facility."
Concerts, rodeos, monster truck rallies and similar events are routinely held at the arena.
The sale and consumption of alcohol at both athletic and non-athletic events are all legal under the bill Lee signed into law on Monday.
Laine Arnold, the governor's spokeswoman, said Lee signed it because it "garnered wide support from leaders and allows universities to take advantage of more event opportunities which create a positive economic impact."
The bill, which had the support of the entire Hamilton County legislative delegation, was a follow through to a 2018 law. That bill allowed alcohol sales at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro and Tennessee State University in Nashville by inserting them in an existing law dealing with a "sports authority facility."
Bill sponsors Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, R-Knoxville, and House Republican Caucus Chairman Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, said they brought this year's measure at the request of Knoxville officials. They believe the change would help the city as well as UT-Knoxville's massive Neyland Stadium and Thompson-Boling Arena lure major entertainment acts in a community without other large venues.
The lawmakers stressed UT Knoxville would not be selling alcohol at athletic events because the Southeastern Conference in which the Vols plays doesn't permit it.
But the new law also applies to about 50 other state university and college campuses. At least some of them, UTC among them, play in sports conferences in which alcohol sales at games are either OK or conference rules are silent on the topic.
Among those silent conferences is the Southern Conference, to which UTC belongs.
"The SoCon does not have a policy prohibiting alcohol sales, so it's up to each institution as to what it does on its campus in that regard," SoCon spokesman Phil Perry said in an email.
While Tennessee public colleges and universities have long barred sales of alcohol for consumption to general admission game attendees, state law provided exceptions in closed off areas like sky boxes and luxury suites for major donors or others willing to pay a high price for the privilege.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke partners with Nashville group to find 5,500 low-income kids in Hamilton County who lost their TennCare coverage