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Tailgating changes bring controversy to campus

Recent changes to the University of Maine tailgating policy for sporting events at Harold Alfond Stadium have drawn mixed reactions from the community. Among the new stipulations are a limit on the time within which a tailgate can take place and new constraints for entering the event area.

The decision, made by the UMaine Police Department (UMPD) and the Office of Student Life, was intended to increase stadium attendance and regulate tailgating safety.

The first major change limits the time of a tailgate from up to three hours before a football game to the end of the first quarter. In the past, tailgates could run up to the end of the third quarter. The second major change, which bars re-entries to the events, has ruffled a few more feathers.

But UMaine administration maintains that this new policy is the best way to address issues that have sprung up around tailgating events in recent years.

“A lot of people were concerned about the no re-entry but that’s just best practices, of course, for safety and security,” said Vice President of Student Life, Robert Dana.

The changes come, in part, as a response to incidents at last year’s homecoming. The 2017 event saw increased attendance, excessive alcohol consumption and littering, according to UMPD Chief Roland LaCroix.  There were two documented complaints of assault at homecoming 2017 in addition to numerous instances of police asking attendees to leave, according to Officer Robert Welch of UMPD.

“What we want to do is make this a safe and enjoyable experience for everybody, it’s not just students who go to these games; it’s a lot of different people,” LaCroix said.

According to Dana, these changes are also an attempt to address problematic aspects of the culture of tailgating at UMaine.

“We’re not really hosting a party venue, we’re hosting a tailgate, which can be part of the football experience.”

Dean Dana had the opportunity to engage with the community on the issue at the first home game on Aug. 30. He spoke with a group of attendees who were initially frustrated with the new policies but, he felt, came to a clear understanding of the matter after he explained UMaine’s reasoning. He described a more positive environment with fewer complaints and significantly less littering.

“There was a very healthy crowd at the football game,” Dean Dana said.

The first game of the 2018 season was held before students returned to campus. Despite this, there were more attendees than usual for a season opener. The opening game of the 2017 season saw 6,313 attendees while this year there were 6,597, according to Tyson McHatten, senior associate director of athletics.

Matt Ahearn, a finance and English student, is the president of club lacrosse and has friends that participated in tailgating for homecoming in past years. This is his first year tailgating and he is disappointed about the time constraints put on the event.

“I appreciate where the University of Maine is coming from […] I think the timing is a little weird, I mean three hours, people want to make a day out of that,” Ahearn said. “People outside are just as enthused as people inside.”

Ahearn also pointed out a possible issue with alumni, some of whom travel hours to attend games and may feel discouraged because of the three-hour time constraint.

“Orono is a bit off the beaten path. People who are coming up here want to spend a whole day here. They don’t want to have to mill around for however long it is before they can get there for three hours before the game.”

Ahearn intends to participate in tailgating this year but thinks the experience might be dulled.  “[The change] deters me a little […] I think students should be able to have more freedom,” he said.

There were mixed reactions from alumni, students and community members when the changes were announced on the Maine Black Bears Facebook page. Many regarded the policy as unfair to the tailgating tradition at UMaine. Some made declarative statements vowing not to renew season passes or attend games.

The National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4) policy served as a guideline for the changes. The NCS4 was established in 2006 by the University of Southern Mississippi and sets sports industry standards for large and small venues across the United States, according to Dana.

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