A recent USA Today article reported that starting this fall, 20 major college sports venues will begin selling beer to fans of legal age—ten years ago, only half that many venues were alcohol-friendly. In the past, alcohol consumption at college sporting events was reserved for those that reporter Randy Peterson calls “high rollers in luxury suites.” Today, as schools are looking towards alcohol sales to increase their revenue, the beer+ball combo may become the norm.
I was surprised to learn about these plans, given the recent national focus on the many problems associated with drinking on college campuses. Half of all college students binge drink and/or abuse drugs, and 1.8 million meet the diagnostic criteria for substance abuse and dependence. Graham Spanier, Penn State President and former Chair of the Big Ten Conference, has said that the greatest challenge for higher education is “the excessive consumption of alcohol and the behaviors that surround it.” Won’t selling beer at sports events increase those problems? What message are these colleges sending to their students? Selling beer at a college game is an implicit endorsement of drinking on campus—it is a move that will likely lead students to more tailgate bingeing and other destructive behaviors.
Of course, schools aren’t planning to sell alcohol to kids under 21. But I doubt good intentions will be able to curtail underage drinking at sports events where alcohol is easily obtainable. Students who are 21 or older may be attending games with underage friends; it won’t be difficult for them to pass a bottle to the sophomore or freshman standing next to them. The increased availability of alcohol at events filled with underage students means that schools will need to invest in greater security—making a substantial dent in the revenue generated by selling alcohol in the first place.
I don’t buy the Cincinnati athletics director’s opinion that “you control the alcohol situation better if you’re selling within your stadium…rather than people trying to sneak in alcohol.” The idea that selling alcohol will lead to less (or less dangerous) alcohol consumption is untenable. The fact that kids will be able to purchase beer right inside the stadium will only make their drinking more difficult to regulate. If a 21-year-old were to sneak a thermos of beer into a sports venue that prohibited alcohol, that’s all the beer he would drink; this fall, however, that 21-year-old will be able to buy as many beers as he can afford, right in his college stadium—and that’s a recipe for binge drinking. People forget that it doesn’t take a lot for a young person to experience a binge situation; it’s five drinks in a sitting for young men and four for young women. Binge drinking leads to increased drunk driving, increased violence, and increased unsafe sexual activity. Why risk promoting these problems among our youth—just to earn a few extra bucks?
In 2010, more than three million college students drove while under the influence of alcohol, and more than 150,000 students developed alcohol-related problems. Alcohol is a factor in two out of three student suicides. These statistics show what most parents already know—that alcohol consumption is a significant problem on American’s college campuses. Sure, selling beer at college sporting events may generate a million dollars in revenue, but it will come at a huge cost to the students, their parents, and the community. Colleges should be working to prevent drinking on campus—not taking steps to encourage it.
Elizabeth Urquhart, M.Ed.
Program Director, Phoenix House Academy of San Diego