Colleges spewing bilge from both sides of their mouths

FOR SHEER FRAUD, there’s nothing like the way college campuses treat alcohol.
On the one hand, they moan about keg parties by focusing anti-alcohol messages on the evils of so-called binge drinking. Never mind that bingeing, as defined by the eggheads at Harvard, is a mere five beers in one evening, and that drinking yourself to death – as much as we might try – is a rarity.

And never mind that by banning liquor, they chase their students off campus and force them to drive home from parties. What the beer-bashers would like to do is tighten the completely unrealistic 21-year-old drinking age and banish what is an important cultural rite of passage: drinking with your college pals.

And on the other hand?

Well, it’s kinda busy right now, grabbing dough from America’s brewing industry.

Every year, beer-makers spend gazillions advertising during televised sporting events – much of it pocketed by colleges.

According to statistics compiled by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, beer producers spent $27 million advertising during March Madness in 2002 alone. The hoops tourney had more alcohol ads (939) than the Super Bowl, World Series and Monday Night Football combined.

It’s not just during basketball. The ads are a constant presence every Saturday afternoon during college football broadcasts, too. And if you crack open a program book during one of those games, you’ll find even more beer ads – $58 million worth last year, according to the center.

All those ads, says the new Campaign for Alcohol-Free Sports TV, undercut the warnings that educators are trying to spread about underage and binge drinking. In the campaign’s kickoff this week, college coaching legends Dean Smith of North Carolina and Tom Osborne of Nebraska called on college presidents to urge their conferences and the NCAA to remove alcohol ads from televised college sports events.

“The fact that these ads run on college sports puts college administrations in a duplicitous position,” said George Hacker, director of the alcohol policies project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which is organizing the campaign.

“On the one hand, they’re taking money from beer promoters. Then, on the other, they’re telling students to lay off the juice. ”

You know, I’ve gotta agree.

Yes it’s true, as the beer industry notes, that the majority of college sports fans are on the legal side of 21.

But it’s fair to say that, if you’re going to yammer about the dangers of alcohol, you really oughtn’t be using your underage kids to shill for Bud – at least, not unless they’re also researching term papers on “The Dynamics of Sanctimonious Blather as Practiced by Money-Grubbing College Administrators. ”

The NCAA responds that it limits beer ads to just one minute per hour, which I suppose means that colleges should be congratulated for not being complete and utter whores.

Speaking of which, check out Penn State.

The school’s president once laughingly declared that binge drinking is the biggest issue facing American higher education – forgetting the teensy matter of skyrocketing tuition costs. The school has launched all kinds of anti-alcohol programs to urge/force 18-year-olders to put down their beers.

Naturally, they haven’t worked.

Every autumn, Penn State gets voted one of the top 10 party schools in America, and nearly every spring the kids riot downtown. In March 2001, they ransacked State College after Penn State’s loss to Temple in the Sweet 16.

This year, the Nittany Lion mascot appeared in a Budweiser ad during March Madness.

The irony is that the ad was one of those quasi public-service responsible-drinking ads. Still, PSU came off looking like a hypocrite.

The problem here is that college administrators, like the whole neo-prohibitionist crowd, are trying to tackle the problem of campus alcohol abuse from the wrong angle.

Instead of teaching a rational approach to alcohol consumption – for example, lowering the drinking age to 18 so that college students aren’t automatically breaking the law every time they crack open a can – they demonize it like a dangerous, addictive drug and seek to ban it outright.

Among the anti-TV ad campaign’s “key principles,” for example, is the assertion that “the link of alcohol with sports represents an unnatural and potentially destructive alliance which society has uncritically tolerated for too long. ”

Unnatural?

Pardon me while I tolerate myself a six-pack this Sunday afternoon when the Eagles take on the Giants.

This is exactly what the finger-waggers don’t understand about booze: It is, at its essence, liquid relaxation. We drink it because it makes us feel good. There is nothing more natural than sitting on your couch and watching a ballgame with a cold brew in your hand. And, by the way, the vast majority of us don’t abuse it, either.

Look, I’m for anything to reduce the number of commercials during games. I really don’t need to run to the bathroom before and after kickoffs.

But if alcohol-control advocates think that keeping the schools’ mitts out of the Anheuser-Busch money trough is the answer, they’re only fooling themselves. It might be the ethical thing to do, but it’s not going to stop kids from drinking.

If the colleges really want to send a positive message to their students about responsibility, about fair play, what they oughta do is give up the money-grubbing charade about amateur collegiate sports and pay the athletes who make all that money for them in the first place. Give the kids with the talent a cut of the advertising dollars – then get them to buy the next round.

Beer radar

Having plowed through that rant, you deserve advance warning on a spectacular Christmas brew that shows up in town this week. Get your hands on a case of Troegs Mad Elf Ale, a spicy, tart, burgundy-colored ale packed with an entirely deceptive 11 percent dose of alcohol. If you liked it last year, it’s even better this season. When I dropped by the Harrisburg brewery last week to scarf up a sample, it had already sold out. But a pallet or so of cases was expected to arrive in town today . . .

What beer do you serve with kangaroo meat? Monk’s Cafe (16th and Spruce streets, Center City) and beer author Stephen Beaumont punted on that one Tuesday at the Belgian beer bar’s exotic meats dinner. Instead of ale (might I suggest something hoppy?), they paired kangaroo wrapped in Japanese sticky rice with Morimoto Ginjo Sake . . .

Calendar

Today and tomorrow: Valley Forge Brewery Collectibles Show, at Sunnybrook Ballroom and Ortlieb’s Brewery & Grille (99 Sunnybrook Road, Pottstown). Bring those old cans sitting in your garage. Doors open 2 to 8 p.m. today, 8:30 a.m. to noon tomorrow. Tix: $5. Info: 610-439-8245.

Tonight: Alchemy Brewing with Bees, Herbs and Grains, a lecture by award-winning homebrewer Bob Grossman, at Eviama Life Spa (262 S. 16th St., Center City). A look at the way mankind has fermented natural plant life for thousands of years, and a taste of meads and old beer styles brewed from historic recipes. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tix: $25. Info: 215-545-3344.

Tonight: Brewer’s Reserve, featuring local winners at this year’s Great American Beer Festival, at Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant (3 W. Gay St., West Chester). If you didn’t make it out to Denver this year, here’s a chance to taste medalists from Nodding Head, Sly Fox, Ortlieb’s, Stewart’s, McKenzie’s and Iron Hill. Free pint glasses for the first 50 guests. Doors open 6 p.m. No cover, pay as you go. Info: 610-738-9600.

Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a bottle of Bell’s Oberon Ale.

 

 

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