Alcohol Use Still a Confusing Health Issue for College Athletics

 

This publication has posted several articles detailing problems that colleges have had with alcohol use on their campuses.  This issue was raised again in a recent article in USA Today discussing the sale of alcoholic beverages by universities at their sporting events.

The University of Louisville sells alcoholic drinks at its football, basketball and baseball games.  The city of Louisville is located in the heart of Kentucky’s bourbon country and alcohol use has long been ingrained in society there.  At the new KFC Yum! Center, the basketball palace that opened last year in downtown Louisville, there are several bars located in concourse areas throughout the arena.  On Friday afternoon games at the on campus baseball stadium admission for students is free and beer is only $1.00.

University and city officials require special training for all persons who serve alcohol at these events and uniformed and undercover police are located throughout the venues.  Officials say that the culture in that area is such that they have encountered few problems over the years.

West Virginia University served beer at its football games for the first time in 2011.  Officials there reported that there was a drop of 64.5% in police cases that arose from incidents at the stadium.  West Virginia earned a profit of some $720,000 from the sale of beer in 2011.  At Louisville the football and men’s basketball programs reported a net profit of over $1.1 million last year from such sales.

In 2011 some 20 of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools sold alcoholic beverages at their home football games.  Many other schools allow consumption of alcohol in stadium luxury suites and boxes even though there are no public sales allowed.

These activities send mixed messages to people associated with the schools.  Many colleges and universities around the country have undertaken programs in recent years designed to combat alcohol abuse on campuses.  The University of Alabama, for instance, has recently seen the initiation of a student-led program to raise awareness on campus about the consequences of binge drinking by students.  The Student Health Center on campus also has run alcohol education programs for at least three years.  Alabama does not sell alcoholic beverages at its sporting events; but does allow alcohol in its luxury suites in the on campus football stadium.  City and campus police routinely overlook the city’s open container laws on football game days, especially in the downtown entertainment district and in an area just two blocks west of the stadium where a number of bars are located.

Americans have a very conflicted relationship with alcohol.  The NCAA prohibits the sale or advertising of alcohol products at venues that host championship events.   The KFC Yun! Center is hosting the Midwest Regional in the men’s tournament in a few days.  All of the bars in the arena will be closed and all signage advertising alcohol products will be covered up.  Yet the NCAA TV broadcasts of the tournament are full of ads touting alcohol products.

The problem is magnified when activities involving drinking of alcohol products reach down to the high school ranks.  Many successful high school football programs now have fans tailgating in stadium parking lots prior to games.  At many of these gatherings beer can be found.  Drinking is seen by many as a rite of passage among sports fans.

This creates a host of issues that those people working in sports administration must address.  Student-athletes are frequently in the news for incidents involving alcohol.  They often receive suspensions and other punishments.  At the same time many of their fans think nothing of consuming several drinks before, during and after games.  When I worked as an attorney in private practice I would go to Municipal Court in Tuscaloosa (home of the University of Alabama) on Mondays following home football games and listen as a few dozen names were called for cases involving students and others charged with alcohol-related offenses at the previous Saturday’s game.

Is there something inherently hypocritical about this picture?  Over many years of coaching youth soccer I can remember seeing many parents of my players at games drinking beer or wine on the sidelines while watching their kids play.  That always seemed wrong to me.  Am I a Don Quixote, tilting at windmills?

 

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