Police crack down on underage drinking at USF football games

If football fans noticed increased law enforcement Sept. 5 at the USF vs. Wofford game at Raymond James Stadium, it may have been because of the additional attention to alcohol-related offenses.

The Alcohol, Beverage and Tobacco Agency, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s office and Tampa Police Department jointly worked at the game to ensure fans abided by policies – specifically underage drinking – said Bill McGillis, executive associate athletic director of USF Athletics.

McGillis said this increased enforcement is something that will continue at USF home football games.

There were 52 incidents – 35 arrests and 17 ejections – at the football game, according to police reports. Of those, 23 documented arrests and nine ejections were USF students and alumni, according to police reports.

“I think the spike in arrests that you saw at this year’s Wofford game is … greater attention to the parking lot areas,” McGillis said.

McGillis said that 52 incidents is almost the average (52.5) of all the six home football games last year combined.

In 29 incidents, individuals were charged with possession of alcohol under 21 years of age, according to police reports. In three incidents, individuals were charged with giving alcohol to a person under 21.

At USF’s season opener last year against Tennessee Martin, there were 35 total incidents: 33 ejections and two arrests.

“Comparing last year’s would not be the right comparison to look for because that game was prior to when we evoked a lot of changes in the parking lot in terms of enforcement and introducing the new polices regarding kegs and overall alcohol issues,” McGillis said.

USF’s Respect-A-BULL campaign, launched in August 2008, is a joint effort by Student Government, Office of Student Affairs, Alumni Association and Athletics, McGillis said.

“It simply enabled us to deliver a consistent message … to all fans that we want to have a fan-friendly environment in our stadium,” he said.

“Conduct issues” at the USF vs. Kansas game last year led the University to develop more “aggressive” initiatives related to fan behavior, McGillis said.

Law enforcement arrested and ejected 76 people at the Kansas game, according to police records.

After that game, the University implemented policies like when to have parking lots open, not allowing intoxicated fans to enter the stadium and the types of prohibited containers like kegs, McGillis said.

USF student Michelle Carey, 19, said Tampa Police arrested her for holding an open beer can. Carey was charged with possession of alcohol under 21 years old and said she has to appear in court Oct. 5.

Carey, a junior and undeclared major, said the enforcement was a “little bit extreme” and a “little ridiculous.”

“I’ve never been in trouble ever before that in my entire life and for me to get an arrest on my record, I mean I do think that is out of control,” she said.

Carey transferred to USF from Daytona State College. She said she hasn’t “seen anything like this before.”

“They seek you out intentionally to try to ruin your life. That’s not OK,” she said. “They’re there to protect us and serve us.”

McGillis said there are challenges in monitoring one of the largest student sections in the Big East Conference, but the University is “lucky” to have student support of the Respect-A-BULL campaign.

“I don’t take from the Wofford game the fact we had 52 incidents to reflect that we have an unruly student fan base,” McGillis said. “Our students are great. We’re really pleased with our students.”