UTC athletic director Mark Wharton content amid changing alcohol landscape

UTC athletic director Mark Wharton content amid changing alcohol landscape

July 8th, 2019 by David Paschall in Sports - College

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletic director Mark Wharton is quite content with his school's stance on alcohol sales for Mocs football games in Finley Stadium.

That doesn't mean he isn't looking around.

"Our eyes are very much focused on what other people are doing," Wharton said. "We've slowly implemented sales to certain areas at Finley Stadium, and we've done it at McKenzie Arena to where we're comfortable. We want to make sure our systems and checks and balances are good before we look at expanding it.

"We certainly look at revenue, but we certainly look at the student aspect of it."

The Southern Conference university expanded alcohol sales in 2016 from Finley Stadium's luxury suites and Stadium Club to the West Plaza that overlooks the field and is right across the street from the First Tennessee Pavilion. The school will begin its fourth football season with that setup on Aug. 29, when the Mocs host Eastern Illinois.

UTC does not allow and has no immediate plans to allow alcohol sales in general seating areas at any of its athletic venues.

"For right now, this is the direction that the chancellor (Steven Angle) and myself are going," Wharton said. "Revenue producing is the name of the game, but we want to make sure it's the right thing for Chattanooga. It's not off the table, but it's down at the end."

UTC standing firm comes at a time when Tennessee and the 13 other Southeastern Conference institutions are adjusting to that league's new stance of providing autonomy to each of its schools regarding the issue. The SEC revised its policy on May 31, and Texas A&M quickly announced last month that, beginning this year, alcohol would be available in all Kyle Field seating areas for fans 21 years or older through the first three quarters of Aggies games.

Missouri announced last month that it is exploring the possibility of alcohol sales in general seating, but Tennessee has joined Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and a majority of the SEC in continuing to provide alcohol in premium areas only.

"We already are exploring it, and two schools (Memphis and Middle Tennessee State) in our state are already serving alcohol at games," Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer told the Knoxville News Sentinel last month. "To what degree and how (it's implemented), that's strictly to be determined."

Wharton said he and Fulmer have spoken about alcohol sales, adding that bigger venues tend to have bigger hurdles to overcome. Wharton came to UTC from Penn State, which has a gargantuan football facility similar in capacity to Kyle Field and to Neyland Stadium in Knoxville.

"You would be surprised about the challenges at a 100,000-seat stadium in terms of storing the alcohol," Wharton said. "To make a decision to the board of trustees in June and equip your stadium to be able to accommodate that number and that amount — you just don't want to do it quickly.

"You want to make sure it's intentional and thought through. I'm a little more old school and would want to make sure this wouldn't be just to raise revenue. I want to enhance the total experience for all of our fans."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

 


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