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MU hopes tailgating increases attendance

Photo by Lauren Olson and Connor Moriarty
Photo by Lauren Olson and Connor Moriarty

Assistant Director of University News and Communications, Carole Johnson, requested a correction on the below story. According to Johnson, the only place alcohol is permitted is in the Red and White Club Tent. Only Red and White club members of legal drinking age (requiring proof of ID) can purchase alcohol. We are currently looking into the issue. In an effort to increase attendance and improve students' overall gameday experience, Miami University has overhauled football Saturdays in Oxford, starting with tailgating.

"What we're basically doing is taking the tailgating into the West Millett lot and support it with all of our efforts," Athletic Director David Sayler said. "We want to have a really lively area that's got activity for adults, for students, for everybody, for kids of all ages. What I want to see is smoke, music and balls in the air. If I got those things going, and it's a confined space and there is people having a good time, then I know we're on to something … It's something that we want to do. It's a part of America: football and tailgating. And we want to take part and grow that here."

Students will be able to do all the things that happen on a college football Saturday, including consume alcohol.

"I think there is an understanding that kind of stuff is what happens on a college Saturday," Sayler said. "It's just managing it and monitoring it and taking the appropriate measures. I don't think it's going to be anything draconian. We want everyone to have a good time and do it responsibly."

The tailgating area is free for students, unlike for alumni and ticket holders. The student area is called the "End Zone" and the rest of the tailgating area is called the "Red Zone."

"We're trying to have students be more interactive with us and more involved in the things we're doing," Sayler said. "I think that is one way to do it; you gotta make it free."

Another change happening this year is that the teams have switched sidelines. Miami will now be on the sideline in front of the press box and the opposing team is on the sideline in front of the Miami student section.

Miami didn't just make this change on a whim, the school had to get permission from the Mid-American Conference.

"For any school in the league that wants to pursue this now, they've got to fill out a plan of action, and ours was approved," Sayler said. "So the league will be watching closely, but we feel comfortable enough with the distance that if you really go down there, the distance to those seats is pretty far from the field. We think we can manage it appropriately."

Sayler said he thinks the move will create an advantage for Miami.

"It's exciting for us," Sayler said. "I feel like moving the team back was the right thing to do, as far as getting them back to the press box side. Where the sun is at our back and we're in the shade versus at our back and we're staring into the sun, which is usually a disadvantage. So I just think it was the right thing to do and I'm really glad the league worked with us and President Hodge was very involved in getting the league to allow this. So I'm very thankful to him for getting us this opportunity."

The move will allow the students to heckle the opposing team, within reason of course.

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"Obviously we don't want students throwing anything, but it is just like the same guidelines when we have the two periods where we have opposing team's goalie down in the student end in hockey," Associate Athletic Director of Marketing, Sales and Licensing Anthony Azama said. "Our students have a little bit of an intimidating atmosphere."

In addition to the sideline changes, Miami is trying to make the gameday experience more interactive than in years past.

According to Azama, Miami will make the game part of the experience, not the whole experience. Giveaways will be common, as will free food and other activities.

"You look at in-game, we're doing something that's called the Swoop's FanFEST, that's basically a playground for fans of all ages …" Azama said.

Miami also added a new sideline host in Jackie Sprauge, a Miami alumna.

Sprague is a former TV reporter who graduated in 2006.

"It is changing the culture with students; telling them we want them involved, we want them to create more of that home field [advantage] at our stadium," Sayler said. "We're looking at some things with that for basketball. We want to bring students closer to the action and have them be a part of the outcome."

Miami's next home game is against Eastern Kentucky University. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Yager Stadium.