East Lansing — When Alan Haller travels with the football team, Michigan State’s athletic director rarely spends time in the suite he normally receives.
Instead, he’s on the sidelines, roaming the stadiums, soaking up every aspect of the game experience he can. It’s something he did last fall, his first as an AD at Michigan State, and something he’s done before that in his other administrative roles in the Spartans’ athletics department.
Haller is doing his best to absorb it all, trying to see who might be doing better than Michigan State and where the game experience can be improved for Spartans fans.
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From how fans get in and out of the stadium to prices at the concession stand – Haller was surprised at how affordable food and drinks were during his trip to the Masters in April, when he teamed up with Spartan golfer and American amateur champion James Piot – Haller is constantly looking at how things can be improved and improved.
And during an extensive interview last week with The News, he confirmed that one thing being considered is allowing the sale of alcohol at Spartan Stadium.
“Yes, I’m exploring that,” Haller said. “There’s a lot to put this into our locations. And it’s not just me, as a sporting director, saying I want to get started. But I and others at this university seek to do that.”
While the state of Michigan has sold alcohol in suites, state laws have made it difficult to do much more. And in the past, there was no desire on the part of those in charge to explore changes that would allow the sale of alcohol.
Whether that will happen anytime soon is hard to say, but currently, eight of the Big Ten’s 14 schools sell alcohol at games, while Michigan State, along with Michigan, Penn State, Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin, do not.
Haller said he has had discussions with staff at schools that offer alcohol sales and many have seen a decrease in incidents of people needing medical attention at games because of binge drinking.
“What happens is people don’t drink too much,” Haller said. “So I think it’s important because it allows for a better experience for our fans, but it also makes for a better tailgating situation. The drinking goes away and the ability to enjoy the game with your favorite drink, if you choose, I think is something our fans want.”
Here are some other topics discussed by Haller:
► As for the renovations and improvements to the football building, approved in April, the works have already begun. Haller hopes that the first phase will not be delayed and that the football team will only be affected this year, but it is difficult to know for sure in the current state of the construction industry.
“I learned in construction here, especially on campus, that you can’t really have an end date. You can have a deadline that works best for you, and it works best for us who shifted the football team by a year. So the best-case scenario is for us to go into construction and get the team back into that space for the 2023 season. If that happens, that’s the best-case scenario.”
The initial phase of the Skandalaris Center’s renovations included the relocation of the current weight room, some demolition and the installation of temporary walls. When the entire project is complete, there will be a new entrance with new lockers, meeting spaces and recovery areas, as well as space for dining, nutrition and health and wellness. The weight room will also be expanded, as well as the auditorium of the soccer team.
Final plans and a budget for the full project are expected this month. The work is being funded exclusively by donations, including $20 million from United Wholesale Mortgage CEO Mat Ishbia.
► At last month’s Detroit Economic Club meeting, Haller said change is coming to the Big Ten.
While this could be inferred as a significant change in football – think the elimination of divisions – Haller was not yet willing to offer too many details, just that he and his Big Ten colleagues hope to be prepared.
“We need to be more aggressive with the change that is coming and be ahead of many changes, anticipating change,” Haller said, “rather than allowing things to happen and then reacting.
“So change is coming. It’s inevitable. … What are these changes, I don’t know. I can’t talk about details. But there will be changes in this industry.”
► When it comes to the transfer portal, Haller is all about student-athletes with freedom of movement. However, like the environment that currently involves name, image and likeness, Haller expects a little more structure.
“You only have four or five years to do this,” he said. “So I support any system that lets people get out of a system that’s not good for them, and that’s what the transfer portal does. However, as with the NIL, there needs to be a little more structure.
“There is freedom of movement in coaching. That was always acceptable. I think these young people who have spent their entire lives honing a skill and being in the top percentage of everyone who has played their sport, they deserve the opportunity to ensure that they enter an environment that helps them succeed. This is what I think the transfer portal should be and we need to put it in a place where that is, allowing students to get out of a situation that is not good for them. This is what the transfer portal should be.”
Next Wednesday: As he looks for new coaches in various sports, being involved in determining a program’s leadership is nothing new for Michigan State Athletic Director Alan Haller.