USC’s “Doctor Tailgate” says for some, it’s not about the game

It's gametime!

Memorial tailgate lot, off Shop Road. Photo provided by Paige Iapalucci.

Many University of South Carolina football fans view gamedays as an all-day event. Students and families wake up early, get their lawn chairs, pack up enough food to feed a small army, grab some recreational beverages, and head to the parking lots around Williams Brice Stadium for tailgating. But not all are going to the game.

About 16,000 plan to stay in their tailgate spot throughout game time, with no intention of even going into the stadium at all. Some buy reserved spots they return to each year, and others pack up their vehicles and wait to see where they can find a place to park. Whether it’s something you do one time in the season, or an every-home-game occurrence, USC’s sport and entertainment professor Andy Gillentine said the idea of tailgating has “exploded” over the past 25 years.

Gillentine is known as “Doctor Tailgate,” after having conducted extensive research on the activity over the years. Although tailgating exists just about everywhere, according to Gillentine, it is more prevalent around on the Southeastern seaboard. “I think a lot of that is weather-environment driven, and it’s driven quite a bit by collegiate football.”

Gillentine said the research started in the 80’s, as he and others began to wonder why people were considering the idea of tailgating. “We were curious as researchers about why people were doing this,” he said. “We thought, ‘it’s 100 degrees outside, why do they want to sit in the parking lot for three hours?” Their findings concluded that the majority of people enjoy the social aspect of the activity, and are driven to connect with others.

“People are joining together for like interests. Even though I don’t really know the people tailgating next to me, we’re sharing the experience together, and I’ll see them seven times a year at the games,” said Gillentine.

There are some legal ramifications related to tailgating, sparked by an incident that occurred in the 1980’s at a Notre Dame football game, according to Gillentine. “A person was walking back to their car, and two intoxicated guys ran into the other person and broke their leg.” The accident prompted a number of guidelines and policies that now surround many universities when it comes to tailgating.

“Some have restrictions on the type of alcohol that can be served, like banning kegs. Some do not allow bottles of liquor to be openly displayed, to help limit consumption. Others have banned the use of charcoal or open flame,” said Gillentine. However, USC is unique in that there are a large collection of private, public, and university-owned tailgating areas. “There are a variety of ways they’re policed, and we try very hard to cooperate. I think everybody wants to keep that environment safe.”

The rules put into place, Gillentine said, are so football fans can continue to enjoy the social activity. “Those are things we want to do, and we want our future generations to continue to tailgate,” he added.  In addition to college football, many also tailgate now before concerts and other sporting events, too.

Categories: Arts & Entertainment, Columbia, Richland County, Sports