Live-blogging: Alcohol and college sports

We’re live-blogging today’s Midmorning discussion about the relationship between college sports and alcohol. Please add your comments to what you hear and we’ll pull the great ones and read them on the air.

Here’s Kerri Miller’s intro:

When the gates open at the U of M’s new football stadium this fall…drunk and rowdy students–beware. If you’re kicked out once–your name will go on a list…and you’ll have to submit to a breathalyzer before you can get in for another game. The university hopes it will help control the behavior of fans and the drinking culture around football games— But what kind of an effect will it really have?

Tailgating will still go on right outside of the stadium doors…and there are bars within walking distance. There is also a close connection between student athletics and alcohol advertising–so we’ll talk about that.

Our guests:

Ervin Cox: Director of student assistance and judicial affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Toben Nelson: Assistant Professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Community Health at the University of Minnesota.

Murray Sperber: Visiting professor in the graduate school of education at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of “Beer and Circus: How Big-Time College Sports is Crippling Undergraduate Education.”


9:08 a.m. – Cox came up with the “show and blow” program at the University of Wisconsin. This is the model that’s going to be used at the University of Minnesota. He said students found it “more fun to go sober.”

9:11 a.m. – Here’s MPR’s Tim Post’s story on how the program will work at the U of M.

9:12 a.m. – Toben Nelson, who acknowledges he’s a cheesehead, says the problem isn’t drinking itself, but the behavior. He says the challenges that campuses face is their relationship with alcohol. Are they going to sell it? Promote it? And how many alcohol outlets will be available near the stadiums?

Cox says they don’t have many wide-open spots for tailgating at Madison. But lots near the dorms are alcohol free.

9:15 a.m. – Could colleges be doing more to control the drinking culture, Kerri asks. “They’re in a tough spot,” Nelson says. “They need to work closely with people in the community.”

“Do they do enough?” Kerri asks.

“They (college administrators) don’t know quite what to do,” Nelson says.

9:17 a.m. – A 2005 USA Today article notes these crackdowns started as far back as 2005. Have they made much difference? Caller Seth, a Madison grad, says it’s been a lot more fun going to the games and “Minnesota will not regret the decision.”

9:19 a.m. – Cox: “If you can’t go to a football game for three hours without drinking, there’s another issue there.”

9:22 a.m. – Nelson is about to release a paper on tailgating, Miller says. I’ve got to see that.

9:23 a.m. – Mark, a student in Mankato, calls to say Mankato is a dry campus and says the U’s policy is a “great idea.” Where are all the drunken college kids this morning?

9:25 a.m. – Cox notes that there’s a political issue here. With state and university budgets being cut, alcohol provides significant revenue. Cox said the unions at Madison would object to eliminating booze altogether. In Texas, they’re championing selling more of it.

9:27 a.m. U of M Daily article on booze at the new stadium.

9:31 a.m. – Cox notes that drinking problems aren’t that big of a deal at basketball and hockey games in Madison. He also notes that the U and Madison are the only Big 10 schools that send student affairs staff to football games.

9:32 a.m. – On the other side of the news, the discussion will turn to Nelson’s research on tailgating. Which led me to Tailgating America. I love the Internet.

9:36 a.m. – I wonder how this discussion would play in real college football towns. Just noticed this picture highlighting in Jacksonville.


9:38 a.m. – Murray Sperber has joined us. He’s critical of college efforts to curtail drinking.

9:40 a.m. – Nelson previews his paper on tailgating. “Most universities do not sell alcohol in their stadium… those that permitted tailgating and didn’t control it, those were the schools more likely to have heavy drinking going on in their stadiums.” He says there’s a reluctance among colleges to cut back on drinking, because it’ll upset the alumni.

ellen_coolerride.jpg9:41 a.m. – MPR’s Julia Schrenkler forwards the Web address of “Cruzin Cooler.”

9:44 a.m. – Ten yard penalty for improper use of the phrase “begs the question.”

9:45 a.m. – We’re picking on the alumni. Meanwhile, caller Kurt calls to play devil’s advocate. “The more we make it a taboo instead of socializing responsibly, the more it will never change.”

9:47 a.m. – Nelson: “Before the minimum drinking age went into effect nationally, drinking among high school students was considerably higher than it currently is.” It’s an interesting assertion that caller Kurt made, basically that if we relaxed our alcohol bans, alcohol abuse wouldn’t be so bad. He invokes the “European model,” but alcohol abuse in Europe is also rampant, contrary to popular belief in discussions like this.

Sperber says he spent part of the year in France. “There’s a major problem with youth drinking in Europe now,” he says.

And Wisconsin, it’s safe to say, has a fairly relaxed attitude — shall we say — to alcohol. And it’s among the biggest binge drinking states in the country (pssst. So are we in Minnesota)

9:52 a.m. – Sperber says large state schools are less inclined to give undergraduates a quality education. Schools have learned that schools really love their beer and they love the circus surrounding it, so they increasingly promote college athletics as a kind of “beer and circus.”

“The only thing that slows them down are the school lawyers,” he says. “When you say to them, ‘why do you allow this excess drinking in the parking lot?’ they don’t have an answer.”

9:55 a.m. — Caller, a U of M grad, says kids are going to drink no matter what. “We often hear that,” says Nelson. “We’ve interviewed more than 50,000 students in our research and we found the more they drink, the more problems” they’re going to have. Rapes on campus and the occasional death are included. “What we need to do is address the heavy drinking going on,” he says, saying he’s never seen the research the caller said existed at the U supporting her assertion.

9:57 a.m. – Sperber says he’s “come around” to Nelson’s point of view — colleges should take a hard line on alcohol. He says when he was in school, “we only drank on the weekends,” but students at Indiana, he says, drink every night.

We’re wrapping up here. What do you think?

  • Chad

    The discussion seems to be missing the difference between the “rich” people in suites watching the game and students in the general admission seats.

    If the mob gets moving toward the goalposts to tear it down, those in box seats won’t really be a part of it.

  • chad

    …because they’re physically removed from the crowd.

  • Bob Collins

    I don’t think anyone suggested the “rich” people were going to be a behavior problem. It was more of a political issue where the DFL at the Legislature was playing the “we’re for the little people” card.

  • Chad

    Exactly. Students and others seem to be concerned with “if they can do it, we should be able to.” There’s a huge difference because of physcial barriers, etc. I think,.

  • Matt

    Evanston, IL, home of Northwestern U., is a dry community. Are there any issues of drunken and disorderly conduct at Wildcats games?

  • bob

    First, shame on Mr. Bruninks for his support of skybox booze.

    What are colleges doing to prevent students from smuggling booze into the games?

  • CaliGuy

    I don’t see this point being made, so either it’s being missed or not spoken or something…

    If a non-student is ejected from a game for public intoxication, are they subject to the same breathalyzer tests that students will be?

    The answer is apparently, “No.”

    If the answer were in the affirmative, wouldn’t non-students be squawking their heads off about civil liberties, etc etc?

    Therefore, why aren’t the students’ civil liberties being discussed?

  • ahren

    I only caught the end of this conversion but it sounded like the general hard line point of view your guests were taking are completely unrealistic. We are having increasing problems policing and controlling underage drinking in our high schools when students are under the control of there parents. How is it a realistic goal to prohibit any kind of drinking (underage or otherwise) when these students are already practiced drinkers?

  • Cody

    Very interesting discussion. Some thoughts/rants I had.

    First, Tobin Nelson commented about the the decrease of drunk driving fatalities after the drinking age was moved up in the 1980s. Some key data about the age demographics involved in such incidents was omitted (or unknown by Mr. Nelson) and I think it certain that automobile safety standards have steadily progressed along with DWI enforcement since that time as well.

    Secondly, in a larger societal cense and in this case at big universities that people/students seem to be viewed as merely numbers. If you are truly educating your population in a way that is personal/intimate rather than setting rules and a running a police state the issues could be fewer. At universities of this size is the gap between students and teachers that large where sports and drinking takes precedence over studies? I am personally thankful I went to a school where class sizes were small and there were no sports.

    Third, students will always find a way to drink and make a mess of things, particularly at sporting related events. Unfortunately, due to the students’ choices some will cause damage to self and others. People need to make mistakes and suffer consequences that is how we learn, if you fail out of school or get put on academic suspension, you and others learn. If you’re a straight A student and you get drunk, fight and arrested, you and others learn.

    Lastly, if the surrounding businesses are the only ones to sell the booze you’re just going to create a worse environment of binge drinking and turn your students away from the games for being too drunk. How about this, have the professors work the stadium beer stands since the money generated is going to the University and likely financially support their research. Just some thoughts, thanks for reading.