EMU and Oakland universities consider baseball league – if alcohol is okay
Lansing – A summer baseball league could expand to two Michigan college stadiums, but only if new legislation allows them a liquor license.
A bill recently introduced by the House would change liquor laws to include Eastern Michigan University and Oakland University baseball stadiums as sellers of alcohol.
The bill is sponsored by Representative Matt Hall, R-Marshall, who did not respond to a request for comment.
Universities can now obtain a liquor license and sell alcohol in their conference centers, hotels, restaurants and golf clubs, but only if the land is leased to private companies.
The amendment to the law would allow Eastern and Oakland to rent their baseball stadiums between the fall and spring semesters, said Bob Murphy, director of policy for the Michigan Association of State Universities.
Murphy said the stadiums will be filled with the Northwoods League, a summer college baseball league with 22 teams in seven states. The liquor license would not apply to regular season games for Oakland or Eastern.
“The changes to the bill relate to an expansion of the league, which wants to add teams based on these stadiums,” Murphy said. “The universities would rent the baseball parks to be operated by the team, so it wouldn’t be for the Eagles or the Golden Grizzly games.”
The league’s Great Lakes division currently has three teams in Michigan: the Traverse City Pit Spitters, the Kalamazoo Growlers, and the Battle Creek Bombers.
All of them have liquor licenses, according to Dick Radatz, Jr., president and co-founder of the league.
“We have 1.3 billion fans per summer who come to our league,” Radatz said. “The inability to serve alcohol is the barrier to why we are not already in these stages.”
The league insisted on updating the legislation before expanding to college stadiums, said Steve Waterfield, Oakland athletic director.
“We had a few initial conversations before the pandemic with the Northwoods League,” said Waterfield, “and it was clear from those that the liquor license part was critical.”
The Northwoods League has letters of intent from both universities, according to Radatz.
“Usually these facilities exist and they are underutilized in the summer, with the exception of some camps,” Radatz said. “But we can come in as a tenant, them being the owner, and they can earn income.”
The baseball stadium in Eastern Michigan, called Oestrike Stadium, has a capacity of 2,500. Oakland can accommodate 500 people.
Radatz said the summer league is an income-generating opportunity for businesses in the region.
“Initially, we looked at opposition to the bill because of the effect it might have on other businesses, such as bars and restaurants,” Radatz said. “But it’s actually quite the opposite because people will stop and drink before and after games.”
The possibility of underage drinking is an added precautionary reason, said Doug Scoles, regional executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
“If you’ve done everything exactly right, there should be nothing to worry about,” Scoles said. “But the reality is, you’re a lot more likely to have underage drinkers, and when you walk into a college campus you run into a whole bunch of new issues.”
“Our concern is to take the necessary precautions to ensure that the training of the servers continues and that they verify the credentials,” he said.
Waterfield said Oakland’s leadership supported the legislation.
“If we move forward it is very important to make sure that we comply with everything and that it is done in a safe and responsible manner,” he said.
He noted that the partnership could also be an opportunity for a refurbished baseball facility.
According to Murphy, the two universities would likely receive rent payments from the Northwoods League.
The full impact of revenues on universities would not be determined until after the legislation is passed, Waterfield said.
“A lot of the real benefits would depend on the type of deal you make,” he said.
Eastern’s sports department, however, has not been made aware of the bill or any future deals, according to Greg Steiner, Eastern’s deputy athletic director for sports media relations.
“Maybe this is something the university has been working on,” Steiner said, “but they didn’t get us involved in athletics.”
EMU media relations did not respond to a request for comment. Murphy said EMU and Oakland were the only two universities to be included in the league’s expansion at that time.