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September 30, 2004

BeerGate And A Thirsty Nation

FROM THE RAGING DEBATE OVER BEER MONEY comes an update on the “College Commitment,” part of the Campaign for Alcohol-Free Sports TV run by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

The College Commitment is a pledge to eliminate alcohol advertising on local media.

The battle lines are clear:

• On one side is the beer industry, media advertising outlets, concessionaires and revenue-conscious conference commissioners.

• On the other side is CSPI, MADD and the 220 colleges that have signed on to the “College Commitment.”

• In the middle (collateral damage?) is the entire spectrum of beer-consuming college football / basketball fans: responsible drinkers, irresponsible drinkers, social drinkers, binge drinkers, underage drinkers, chuggers, sippers and so on.

Most conspicuous of the College Commitment signers is Ohio State AD Andy Geiger. Other notable supporters include Joe Paterno, John Wooden, Jim Calhoun and Tom Osborn.

There is, however, a ways to go.

Of the 220 College Commitment schools—only 20% of the NCAA's membership--only nine schools play Division I-A football. Just four--Ohio State, Northwestern, Minnesota and Baylor--belong to BCS conferences.

What about the other D1 schools?

A blunt answer: There’s too much money to lose, with no immediately available alternative to take up the slack.

"We've not heard any principled opposition to this notion; it's all been economic," said Jay Hedlund, the manager for the CSPI campaign. "But it would be our hope that college campuses would be a center of principled discussions on important social issues like this."

Good luck Jay.

A telling quote on the issue came from Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany (recently voted the most relevant individual in all of college football by a CBS Sportline.com writer).

Said the commish, "I don't know, nor do I feel, that there's a critical mass that would be willing to sign on to this, enough for it to translate from them to me. If I'm not mistaken, I think Prohibition failed."


And from Beer Institute President Jeff Becker, "The current campaign by CSPI is an effort to drive an agenda that is not supported by the facts. Illegal underage drinking is a complex issue, and unfounded attacks on college alcohol advertising will do nothing to address the problem."

Another ouch.

Becker cited Nielsen Media Research that says 88 percent of college football viewers are of legal age. There was no mention of the other 12%.

And CSPI’s Hedlund, whose organization—and its allies—have been accused of being closet neo-prohibitionists: "We don't want to be confrontational here. But that doesn't mean that we won't be."

Let’s get ready to rumble.

(this 433 word excerpt—and accompanying commentary—was distilled from a 1512 word article from the Orlando Sentinel of 9-27-04)