About Us Contact Us Privacy Policy Terms of Use
Best Quotes
Guest Commentary
Who Am I?
Monthly Archives

April 01, 2004

March Madness: Another Slam Dunk For The Alcohol Industry?

by Dwayne Proctor, PhD.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

We are now in the midst of the widely anticipated March Madness basketball tournament. Across the nation, fans are sitting back and enjoying the display of emotion, athleticism and spirited rivalries that prompt many to view college basketball as the king of televised sports entertainment.

As we sit back and watch, many hope that a repeat of years gone by will not emerge...news reports of drunken college students rioting in the streets, breaking windows and setting fire to whatever combustible items are available. The result of what has become quite literally an incendiary combination: the annual NCAA men's basketball tournament and excessive alcohol use.

Unfortunately, the out-of-control partying inspired by the tournament has made the specter of the overturned car engulfed in flames as emblematic of the NCAA championship games as a soaring in-the-lane slam dunk. It's also unfortunate that the NCAA and the alcohol industry seem more interested in being part of the problem than part of the solution.

Clearly, it's time for the NCAA and university athletic programs to make a clean break with the alcohol industry, starting with the March basketball tournament. The NCAA argues that it already has taken steps to restrict alcohol ads during the tournament. And yet the tournament still attracts more alcohol ads than any other sporting event.

Virtually no one disputes that college students drink too much. An estimated 1400 college students die each year from alcohol-related causes, even though many college students are younger than the legal age to purchase alcohol. A recent report by the National Academy of Sciences noted that on college campuses, alcohol is involved in 95 percent of all violent crime and 90 percent of rapes.

It's also beyond dispute that at many universities, NCAA tournament time is an occasion to crank it up another notch. According to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study, sports fans are much more likely to binge than other drinkers. Residents of university towns like College Park, Maryland; Bloomington, Indiana; and East Lansing, Michigan don't need Harvard to tell them this. They only have to look out their windows after a big game.

Granted, it is unfair to hold the NCAA and the alcohol industry solely responsible for the alcohol-induced behavior of college sports fans. But their unseemly alliance in which the NCAA and many of its member universities allows the alcohol industry to use college athletics as a vehicle to promote their products does little to discourage student alcohol abuse and perhaps much to fuel it.

Consider that in 2002 the alcohol industry, with the blessings of the NCAA ran 939 television ads during the NCAA tournament. That's more beer ads than appeared that year during the Super Bowl, Monday Night Football, college bowl games and the World Series combined.

Meanwhile, across the country the beer industry has become a major contributor to university athletic programs. It's worth noting that at the University of Colorado, where drinking-related scandals involving underage male athletes are roiling the campus, the basketball arena is funded by and named after a prominent local brewer.

The beer companies insist their close association with college athletics is in no way linked to the drinking problems on college campuses. They also would have us believe that their ad campaigns -- say, using 22-year-old golfer Sergio Garcia and Kid Rock to promote specific brands and using PG-13 movies like Scary Movie 3 to pitch another label of suds -- are not targeting the college crowd, which just happens to spend about 5 billion a year on beer.

That's why we recently saw legends like former University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith and former University of Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne (now a member of the U.S. House of Representatives) demand a total elimination of alcohol ads from NCAA sporting events.

Many college leaders enter March praying that the price of victory in the NCAA tournament will not be a drunken riot that casts more ignominy than glory on their schools. The least the NCAA can do is make a statement that it is squarely in their court, by telling the alcohol industry that college basketball will no longer serve as a billboard for beer.

Dwayne Proctor, PhD., is a Senior Communications Officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Princeton, NJ. He is a proud graduate of the University of Connecticut.

This article originally appeared on “Join Together Online” on 4-1-04 at http://www.jointogether.org/y/0,2521,570168,00.html

NOTE: Any and all views, thoughts, opinions and advocacies as stated in this article are those of the author, and not College Athletics Clips.