Early road swing will set tone for Gamecocks’ season (copy)

South Carolina football fans may soon have the option of buying beer at Williams-Brice Stadium in the wake of the SEC's new policy allowing alcohol sales at sporting events. Travis Bell/Sideline Carolina

College football attendance slipped in 2018 for the seventh time in the last eight years to a 22-year low.

Head coach Nick Saban has complained that not enough Alabama students show up to cheer on the mighty Crimson Tide.

Clemson, an ACC school with SEC DNA, went undefeated last season. The Tigers won the national championship. They didn’t sell out a single home game.

So the SEC’s announcement last week that it will allow member institutions to sell alcohol at sporting events wasn’t a shock. The surprising thing is that it took so long for the world’s most influential college football conference to dive onto a projected new revenue stream like a goal-line fumble.

That leaves the University of South Carolina in a tough spot. The business of Gamecocks, Inc., is keeping up with the rest of the SEC and Gamecock Nation gets as thirsty as any fan base from College Station to Lexington.

But South Carolina is uniquely flawed among the SEC schools considering selling beer to an audience peppered with young drinkers, many of them underage: the Gamecocks lead the league in off-campus facilities.

There are three ways to respond. But considering that no other SEC school has an off-campus football stadium and few other schools in America have off-campus basketball and baseball facilities, South Carolina must take on the new College Alcohol Sales Era (CASE) with the obvious best-CASE scenario.

Budweiser Stadium

Beer flow options for South Carolina:

• Just say no

The high road over Miller High Life will get a lot of support.

It’s safer.

It means fewer DUI-related deaths on the roads (more will inevitably come with college sports alcohol sales).

Athletic director Ray Tanner has stated opposition to beer sales in past years and outgoing school president Harris Pastides in a statement last week talked about preserving a “family-friendly atmosphere” at SEC games.

Tanner said Friday the response he’s received to the new SEC policy has been “about 50-50.”

But Pastides also mentioned “establishing expectations for responsible management of the sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages.”

And Tanner on Friday said “if the Board (of Trustees) says we’re going to go there, then that’s what we’ll do.”

Which means a “Beer trucks only” parking area at Williams-Brice Stadium — and eventually Death Valley in Clemson — is probably inevitable.

• A new stadium

How about this? Build a new stadium on campus (or across the street) and get a beer sponsor to pay for it.

A facility a little closer to dorms and apartments means fewer students in automobiles.

Political football funding shouldn’t be a problem; the NFL’s Carolina Panthers just got a $115 million tax break for new practice digs and headquarters planned on Palmetto State soil. A lot more people are invested in Gamecock football than NFC South futures.

Or get multiple beer sponsors.

“We are live at The Bud where tonight the Gamecocks play host to Kentucky on Dos Equis/Spurrier Field …”

Cockabooses off the rails

Yeah, you’re right. A new ballyard is less likely than a sobriety statement in a microbrew world.

Leading only to …

• Shuttle service

Tanner on Friday went on about how the new policy might work.

“How much does it cost you to implement?” he said. “Not how much are you going to make, how much does it cost? How much security are you going to need? Our points of sale. Most football stadiums in the SEC didn’t prepare for this many, many years ago. NFL stadiums did, so we got a lot of work to do to decide if it works, how it works. Is it going to affect your seating bowl? How does it affect families? There are more questions than there are answers right now.”

More restrooms are a must, that’s for sure.

But it’s outside Williams-Brice Stadium that requires the critical attention.

South Carolina must preside over the greatest shuttle fleet in college sports history, a collection of vans, buses, golf carts and mobile Cockaboose vehicles that look like the stationary garnet apartments on the rails parked outside the stadium.

Goal: safe passage in a manner sure to be duplicated at other schools, even those with on-campus stadiums — and fewer traffic deaths involving students.

Range: to-and-from campus and surrounding student apartment areas, including selected popular student living areas far off campus.

Sponsors: beer companies as part of their school contracts.

Cost: free.

Even for Clemson fans.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff